The Pull of the Stars
Are you the sort of person who has found comfort in These Times by reading tales of other pandemics throughout history? Or about historical social uprisings? Or the failure of institutions to protect those they are charged to? Then The Pull of the Stars is for you, since it takes place in Dublin during the Spanish Flu pandemic at a hospital run by the Catholic Church.
If you want to focus on none of those things – wait on this read for a few years or so. It’s achingly emotional, fully of evocative prose, because everything Ms. Donoghue does is.
But it’s a rough read, folks. It’s rough.
And it’s not made any easier by the fact that this book – like Sally Rooney’s Normal People – has decided that quotation marks is beneath it. WHY, pray tell, are we getting avant garde with quotation marks? They’re good things – they help us know when someone is talking and when they’re not. They’re not, I don’t know, abominations of yesteryear. This trend can die whenever it wants, as far as this reviewer is concerned.
But the story itself is dense in the best ways – Ms. Donoghue layers her characters and plot arcs like cake and discovering the ways they collide is always rewarding. It follows a nurse who is taking care of the maternity ward in a Dublin hospital during the worst of the flu. It’s a small story in terms of characters, but a large one in terms of themes.
However, this is not an exemplar of her work. My low grade here is partially to do with her fear of quotation marks which greatly decreased my reading enjoyment, but also with the speed of the final reveal. The plotting was a little… off for me. More than any of her other works, this felt like she had Things To Say instead of a story to tell and I think the story is lesser for it.
As an aside – if any of you read it and want to learn more about Mother and Baby Homes, rent Philomena or The Magdalene Sisters and off you go. Learning that piece of Irish history and bearing witness to the stories is worth your time for sure – I’m just not entirely sure The Pull of the Stars is quite the place to learn it fully.