Goodreads: Call the Midwife
Series: The Midwife Trilogy #1
Twenty-two-year-old Jenny Worth arrives at Nonnatus House, home of to an order of Anglican sisters who serve as midwives, to begin her own midwivery career in the East End of London. The 1950s are a brutal time for the families who live stacked in tenements with limited access to plumbing and still remember the horrors of the workhouses. Calls range from recent immigrants to streetwalkers but Jenny and the sisters venture boldly forth, determined that all the women in their district receive the proper healthcare they would otherwise go without.
I eagerly await each new season of the BBC’s show Call the Midwife, so quickly broke my budget when I saw the first installment of Jennifer Worth’s memoirs (the inspiration for the television series) at a library book sale. I worried, as I always do, that the differences between the media might lessen my enjoyment. What if the characters I had come to know and love were different in the original version? Despite my reservations, however, Worth grabbed me in from the beginning and I read long into the night, quite past my bedtime.
Sadly, I did find that the show made some character changes–some of them, I would argue, for the better. In this book, for example, Trixie, Cynthia, and Chummy receive little attention. Readers can hope that the subsequent books expand upon Worth’s relationships with her coworkers, but for now we only know that Trixie has a sharp tongue, Cynthia a remarkable voice, and Chummy a tendency to break things. How they interact with Worth and what their personal lives are like remain largely a mystery.
The bulk of the stories focus on Worth’s patients. Worth provides an engrossing look at the hardships of life in the tenements of 1950s London, a look made all the more remarkable because of the diversity of patients she meets. Readers encounter a Spanish woman and her husband who can’t speak each other’s languages, an Irish girl fled from home and now working the streets, and several women who grapple with informing their husbands of their affairs–only when the skin color of the new baby threatens to reveal their infidelity. Worth has the material for a drama or maybe even a soap opera, and yet she tells her stories matter-of-factly, making a clear attempt to avoid making moral judgments or to paint her patients with a brush of scandal. Her nuanced storytelling is a breath of fresh air and perhaps accounts for why I enjoy Call the Midwife but not Downton Abbey–the show follows her lead and talks about the lives of women, and never turns into a n overwrought drama.
My engrossment made the ending all the more annoying as the story just cuts off. Initially I was unaware that the memoirs span a trilogy, but even so the book has no conclusion. I suppose there’s nothing for it but to find a copy of the next installment and hope that the characters I love receive more attention. I know at least that the intriguing stories will still be there.