Jennifer Worth – Call the Midwife
Read By: Nicola Barber
Length: 12h 02m (352 pages)
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Started: 02 October 2015
Finished: 10 October 2015
Where did it come from? Audible.
Why do I have it? I loved the PBS series, so when I saw that it was based on a book, I figured I’d give it a try.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 19 September 2015.
If I were to have
a baby, a ’50s slum
is not where I’d choose.
Summary: In the 1950s, Jenny Lee arrives at St. Nonnatus House in the East End of London. She was trained as a nurse and was now to apprentice with the nuns of St. Nonnatus to learn midwifery. In post-war London, contraception was rare and unreliable, families were large, wages from jobs at the docks were low, and home births were common, so the midwives of Nonnatus House were a vital part of their community. Call the Midwife is a memoir of Nurse Lee’s first few years at Nonnatus, and through her, we get to know the other inhabitants of Nonnatus House, from the sharp tongued Sister Evangelina to the aging and increasingly distracted Sister Monica Joan. We also get glimpses into the lives of the people of the East End, including a woman with twenty four children who spoke no English, a young Irish girl who ran away from a terrible situation at home only to find herself turned out as a prostitute, and an older woman who is still haunted by her time in the workhouse. Through them, Jenny learns the craft of midwifery, and finds kindness and cruelty, heartache and hope, and ultimately, compassion and faith.
Review: I had never heard of these books before I began watching the TV series on PBS. And I absolutely fell in love with the show – it reliably makes me cry both happy and sad tears, sometimes at the same time, and it’s just warm and caring and full of people who care for and about each other, and I just find it absolutely delightful, even though midwifery is not something I would necessarily care about in and of itself. And while I will do my best to review the book separate of the TV show, the truth is that they’re very much intertwined.
Many of the stories in this book have been used as episode plots in the show, sometimes with minor or not-so-minor changes, but pretty much all of the bones of this book were stories I was familiar with. This wasn’t necessarily a hindrance – the book does present things in a somewhat different light than the show, with more detail and more contextual and historical information than can be presented in the television show. I also knew the main characters quite well before I started the book, so I can’t really judge how well the book does in terms of characterization – it feels fabulous but that could just be because I already had them well pictured in my head. (The one exception is Chummy, who’s one of my favorite parts of the show but appears in the book much less than I was expecting/hoping.)
I listened to the audiobook of this, which was great as well; Worth does her best to transcribe the Cockney dialect (the printed version has an appendix with a dialect and pronunciation guide!), but nothing beats hearing it out loud.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, as I rather suspected I would. The stories don’t always connect to one another cleanly, and there are some places where I got the sense that Mrs. Worth was over-editorializing or romanticizing her life (not often, though; she’s usually pretty straightforward about the bad parts along with the good.) But it’s also interesting from a historical perspective as well as a personal one – the 1950s don’t seem like all that long ago, and yet it was a very, very different world in many ways. But the human element of the story has remained remarkably similar, and that’s the part I enjoyed most. This book just felt warm and welcoming and full of compassion and grace, which made for a lovely listening experience. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Fans of the TV show will find much that’s familiar (and therefore much that’s enjoyable) about the book. Otherwise, it’s an interesting piece of medical and social history that’s told from a very humanizing perspective.
First Line: Nonnatus House was situated in the heart of the London Docklands.
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