2020 Reviews · historical fiction · new release

New Release Book Review: The Pull of Stars by Emma Donoghue

Title: The Pull of Stars

Author: Emma Donoghue

Published: July 28th 2020

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Pages: 256

Genres:  Fiction, Historical

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4 stars

From the international bestselling author of Room.

In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city centre, where expectant mothers who have come down with an unfamiliar Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia’s regimented world step two outsiders: Doctor Kathleen Lynn, on the run from the police, and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney.

In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other’s lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work.


‘Not just the hospital, I reminded myself- the whole of Dublin. The whole country. As far as I could tell, the whole world was a machine grinding to a halt. Across the globe, in hundreds of languages, signs were going up urging people to cover their coughs. We had it no worse here than anywhere else; self-pity was as useless as panic.’

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue is a story of strength, private wars, public battles, resilience, survival, torment, loss, life and death. It is a unique story that lingers long after the final page has been turned.

Situated in Dublin in the depths of the Great War in 1918, Emma Donoghue presents a picture of a country in turmoil. From the political issues on the home front and further afield across Europe, humanity faces both war and a terrible disease.  At the grass roots level, we have health workers such as the principal character of Emma Donoghue’s novel, Nurse Julia Power. Julia works tirelessly in the maternity ward of a Dublin hospital, diligently tending to the care of expectant mothers suffering from the effects of the Spanish Flu. Julia is about to give up hope when she loses more patients than she manages to save, but when Kathleen Lynn, a trailblazing female doctor and a selfless volunteer takes a place by Julia’s side things begin change. Over the course of just a three day changeover period, we witness, along with Julia, change, loss, love, birth, miracles and fear.

With a collection of seventeen notable works in both the contemporary and historical fiction range, Emma Donoghue needs no introduction. Many readers will know Emma Donoghue for her novel Room, which was a Man Booker finalist. I am yet to read this New York Times best book of 2010 winner, but I have tried to keep abreast of this author’s work. Last year I reviewed Akin, a recent release from this Irish born author. As soon as I discovered that The Pull of the Stars was set during the Spanish Flu pandemic, I was very keen to read Emma Donoghue’s book. I have a strong interest in the Great War time period and a fascination with the Spanish Influenza of 1918. The Pull of the Stars definitely piqued my curiosity level.

It feels more than a little strange to pick up a novel set during a flu pandemic in the past when we are still facing a contemporary outbreak. Although the Spanish Flu occurred a century ago, the impact of this virus on the individual and the worldwide community was devastating. A book filled with sorrow, loss, grief, inequality and pain, The Pull of the Stars strikes directly at the heart. Emma Donoghue uses her pointed and spared back prose to get right to the very core of the matters presented in her novel. The style of narration employed by Donoghue takes the format of an interior monologue, which I do admit to struggling with from time to time. However, it is an astute and compelling perspective, which provides the reader with an essential bird’s eye view of the life of a practicing nurse in the field of midwifery during the Spanish Flu.

Moving testimonies and facts from this era have been utilised thoroughly by Emma Donoghue. As a result, Donoghue has produced a novel with clear historical weight, as well as accuracy. I can only imagine just how hard the production of this novel would have been. The sheer dent to the population and how many casualties were taken by the influenza pandemic still incites great despair, over a hundred years later. What I found most interesting about The Pull of Stars was the fact that Emma Donoghue had no prior warning that a present day global pandemic was going to erupt just as her own historical novel which is also based on a flu pandemic was taking shape. I feel the timing of this novel’s release is perhaps ideal, but for some the reality exposed through The Pull of Stars may prove too close for comfort. For me personally, The Pull of Stars provided a sense of connectedness and I was able to relate with great sympathy to the unfolding story.

The Pull of the Stars is story that encompasses far more than just the heartbreaking Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Emma Donoghue also links in nursing, midwifery, childbirth practices, gender relations, medical careers, inequality, poverty, politics, morality and social life. This is a full novel, wide in scope and insight. Haunting, poignant and mesmerising, The Pull of the Stars is a book that has the capacity to draw in a wide audience range and it is an essential read that I recommend.

The Pull of Stars by Emma Donoghue was published on 28th July 2020 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Pull of Stars, Emma Donoghue, visit here.

*Thanks extended to Pan Macmillan for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

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