I do a weekly series every Sunday reviewing a book I’ve read during the week. Reading and recommending books are two of my favourite things and this encourages me to keep up with both! Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, and please suggest new reads for me! Warning: these reviews contain spoilers.
I’ve been a huge fan of the show Call the Midwife for ages, and I’ve tried endlessly to find the books the show is based on by the main character Jennifer Worth. However no matter where I looked in Canada, I could only seem to find the books by her sister.. very strange. So when I came to England I was sure that they would have her books, being an English author writing about London and all, and I was right! I purchsed the first of her books at Waterstones and will definitely be going back to pick up her other 3.
The book follows the career of Jenny Lee (later Jenny Worth) as she works as a district nurse and midwife in the impoverished east end of London post WW2. The book finds her delivering babies in almost unimaginable conditions – but her powerful storytelling makes it so that you can clearly picture them. The particular area she worked had been damaged extensively in the war, and many of the homes had been classed as unfit for habitation. However the area was so poor, and the government provided so little assistance that many families were still living in these condemned homes over 10 years later.
This left the Anglican Nursing Sisters of St John the Divine (the real life answer to the shows Nonnatus House) and the other midwives to work in some pretty deplorable conditions. A lot of the houses they delivered babies in didn’t even have running water or a bathroom installed. As someone incredibly interested in both healthcare and history, it was fascinating to get to read about how things were done 60 odd years ago, and marvel at how inventive they were. The author obviously went to incredible lengths to ensure the authenticity of the book, citing sources from archives and museums throughout England.
The one thing that I will say about the book, is if you’ve seen the show – nothing will be a surprise to you. The stories in the show are taken verbatim from the books, often even down to the wording used. There were only one or two small parts of the book that I was unfamiliar with from the show, and I’m sure they were only excluded because there were other similar stories already. There were also a few things created specifically for the show, such as Shelagh leaving the religious life and marrying Dr. Turner. However all but one of the medical cases in the book appears in the show. In a way I appreciate that the show is being true to the history, but it would’ve been nice not to know the ending of every story as soon as she said the patients name. It might be better if you haven’t seen the show to read the books first, that way you’ll be familiar with all the stories, but at least you’ll then get to see the things you imagined come to life. That said, I will still be buying her other books, as I do enjoy her writing style. I’m hoping there will be some unfamiliar characters in those ones!
Call the Midwife is published by Orion and is available at most book stores in the UK, or can be purchased online here – https://goo.gl/LzzW3z