Call the Midwife: Season 4, Episode 3 (Mini Review)

Call the Midwife Season 4

Spoiler Warning

This episode of Call the Midwife is one of the most intense, and one of the most potentially controversial, since the show’s inception. Tony Amos is caught by the police engaging in “indecent acts” in a public men’s restroom (i.e. attempting to have sex with another man) and suffers from the fallout both at home from his pregnant wife Marie and in public from the Poplar community.

Although the episode’s persistence in drawing parallels between the treatment of homosexuals in the community and the treatment of disease-infested rats (i.e. extermination) is a bit heavy-handed, the show does attempt to add nuance to the situation. Reactions range from Tony’s wife’s simple refusal to acknowledge anything has changed, to some local women’s outright belittling and ostracizing, to Patsy’s righteous indignation at the prejudice. Trixie equivocates more than any other character, but also raises a pertinent point: this situation is not only about sexual preferences; it is about the fact a man cheated on his wife. No one in the show addresses the fact that the “indecent act” was not actually consensual; Tony was attempting to rape someone. (As far as I can tell, the undercover cop never used any type of signal he was in the restroom to find a hook-up; he was simply jumped while reaching for a paper towel.) The storyline thus introduces more problems than it is apparently invested in addressing.

The episode ends on a somewhat hopeful note as the community begins to behave more welcomingly, at least to Marie, who was never personally “at fault.” However, there is an underlying implication that Poplar is not ready for a major change in perspective, and the issue at stake is really left open-ended. It seems as though the show is leading towards Patsy’s revealing her own relationship with Delia, so this leaves a lot of questions about how the show will handle that. Because Patsy is a recurring character, her story will not be able to be boxed into a single episode and then shipped off; the writers will have to find ways to explore it across episodes.

What are your thoughts on this episode?  What did you think of the portrayal of Tony?  How will Patsy change from watching everything unfold?

Call the Midwife: Season 4, Episode 2 (Mini Review)

Call the Midwife Season 4
Spoiler Warning

Episode 2 of this season of Call the Midwife moves quickly: several characters experience a character arc that one might normally expect to play out over the course of an entire season, or at least two episodes.  Trixie begins to morph into a bridezilla, wanting her and Tom to have the perfect engagement and wedding, and one begins to wonder whether she has completely forgotten Tom is a vicar on a budget.  No worries, though; she has her priorities straight by the end of the hour.  Similarly, new midwife Phyllis Crane opens the episode as superior and unlikable, but ends by symbolically donning the Nonnatus House uniform she had previously refused and professing her intention to belong.  While it may be relieving for the audience to know they will have to deal with less of Phyllis’s attitude during the remainder of the season, her transformation does raise the question of why she gets tons of character development in one episode while Barbara gets close to none in two full episodes.  Hopefully Barbara’s time to shine is yet to come.

The birth story of this episode is a mix of triumph and tragedy, a usual for the show.  It is truly impressive how the show manages to cover and present thoughtfully the stories of so many different types of parents and so many types of births.  Here, the Bisettes must learn how to be joyful about the birth of their son, when his twin sister has died.  Their situation raises profound and moving questions, but Tom is ready to help answer them.  The final scenes of the episode are not easy, but they say a lot about life, death, and dealing with grief.  Once again, Call the Midwife incites tears.

What did you think of this episode?  Did it move too fast?  Did Phyllis grow on you, or do you need to see more of her?  Which character stole the show?

Call the Midwife: Season 4, Episode 1 (Mini Review)

Call the Midwife Season 4

Spoiler Warning

Season 4 of Call the Midwife starts at a gallop.  Although a new midwife, Barbara Gilbert, arrives to fill some of the space left empty by the departures of Jenny, Chummy, and Cynthia, it is Trixie who takes center stage in this episode.  She opens by cheerfully delivering a baby in a car (a first for Nonnatus House!) and goes on to take a keen interest in a mysterious young boy and his sisters, whom the audience eventually learns are suffering from abuse/neglect by their mother.  This is a fresh topic for a show that often (of course) focuses on pregnant women and newborn babies, but it tugs at the heartstrings just as much as any previous storyline on the show.  It also allows Trixie to open up more about her own troubled childhood and continue her development into a more nuanced character.  She still has all the cheer and charm audiences have grown to love her for, but they are paired with clear fortitude and strength.

Trixie’s engagement at the end of the episode is moving, though certainly not the most moving part of a truly heart-wrenching hour.  That is fitting for the show, however; it presents Trixie’s engagement as a joyous event in her life, but not the main event.  The show does not aim for a surprise engagement/wedding to end the season, but rather builds the scene into the story arc.  Audiences can hope for a dash of romance throughout the rest of the season, and possibly some fun as Trixie learns tot live with a clergyman.

What did you think of episode 1?  Is Barbara going to be a great character?  Or will Trixie continue to steal the show?

The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth (ARC Review)

Secrets of MidwivesInformation

Goodreads: The Secrets of Midwives
Series: None
Source: Shelf Awareness Giveaway
Publication Date: February 10, 2015

Official Summary

A novel about three generations of midwives (a woman, her mother, and her grandmother) and the secrets they keep that push them apart and ultimately bind them together

THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES tells the story of three generations of women devoted to delivering new life into the world—and the secrets they keep that threaten to change their own lives forever. Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father— hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back 60 years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—a secret which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden?

Review

To start, let me say that I understand why this book is being published.  Although the ARC cover features a pile of green baby blankets, the final cover has a photo clearly meant to call to mind Call the Midwife and capitalize on the popularity of the television series (a fact that becomes even clearer when one realizes that The Secrets of Midwifes takes place in present-day Rhode Island, with only a few flashback to a time when midwifes were riding bicycles and wearing blue dresses with red cardigans).  This book, delineating the history, secrets, and relationships of three generations of women, also has clear book club appeal.  I can see that it is going to sell.  It is less clear to me how much readers will enjoy the book after they buy it.

The first major issue with The Secrets of Midwives is bad prose.  This is, of course, something of a subjective issue.  However, I have shown my ARC to enough people and skimmed enough Goodreads reviews to note that I am not in the minority when I say the writing is something the reader will probably have to ignore or overcome in order to enjoy the book.  I showed the novel to a friend who refused to stop reading after the first paragraph.  I probably would have done the same if I were in a bookstore, skimming the book and deciding whether I wished to purchase and read it.  Primarily, I finished reading The Secrets of Midwifes because I received a review copy and felt obligated to do so.  To allow other readers to make their own decisions, however, I will quote the first paragraph (AS IT APPEARS IN THE ARC; the finished book may read differently):

I suppose you could say I was born to be a midwife. Three generations of women in my family had devoted their lies to bringing babies into the world; the work was in my blood.  But my path wasn’t so obvious as that.  I wasn’t my mother—a basket-wearing hippie who rejoiced in the magic of new, precious life.  I wasn’t my grandmother—wise, no nonsense, with a strong belief in the power of natural birth, I didn’t even particularly like babies.  No, for me, the decision to become a midwife had nothing to do with babies.  And everything to do with mothers.

This certainly isn’t the passage of the novel I experienced the most annoyance reading.  But it is the place where many readers will have to decide whether they wish to keep going.

In addition to mediocre prose, the book employs a difficult structure, switching each chapter to give the point of view of Neva (the daughter), Grace (the mother), or Floss (the grandmother).  This in itself is unproblematic.  However, Hepworth does not employ her multiple points of views in (what I would consider) the most profitable way.  Readers get the very basics from Hepworth’s technique: they get a window specifically into each woman’s mind.  However, there is no obvious reason any woman is narrating any particular chapter.  Hepworth literally opens the book with the three meeting for dinner, and switches the point of view in the middle of this dinner.  First readers get Neva’s perspective on drinking tea; then they get her mother’s.  I don’t think anything is really gained by the switch, and I wish Hepworth would have more thought into who should tell what part of the story, instead of employing a very basic 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 pattern as the characters switch off.

The multiple points of view do highlight one thing, however: the skill and subtlety with which Hepworth draws Grace.  Readers are initially introduced to Grace through Neva, who, although fairly close with her mother in one sense (they hang out a lot, talk a lot, etc.) is not actually on good terms with her because she finds her overbeating and obtrusive.  Hepworth then gives Grace’s perspective, and somehow manages to convey the sense that, yes, she is a somewhat meddlesome woman who doesn’t know how to leave people alone, while eliciting some sympathy for her because, in her own mind, she always has a rationalization for her actions.

The other characters do not come across quite as nuanced to me.  The possible exception is a love interest, and there readers get the pleasure of seeing his actions and complicated decisions simply as actions—he does not get to narrate his own tale.

With prose, structure, and most of the characters disappointing me, I was left reading with the hope that the plot would be interesting.  In some ways, it is.  The book claims to be about secrets, after all, and there is one primary mover: Who is the father of Neva’s baby?  So, while ultimately I was actually bored by most of the plot, I was hooked by the cheap suspense tactic.  I wanted to know who the father was.  Unfortunately, this tactic can only work on readers once.  I know who the father is now and nothing else particularly captivated me about the book; I have no reason ever to reread it.

Neva’s grandmother Floss also has a secret, but I did not find it quite as compelling.  In actuality, hers may have been more surprising.  The book definitely leads readers to one obvious conclusion, only to hint later that maybe that is not the right answer, after all.  However, I was not personally invested in the technicalities of Floss’s past life, and while I think she does have a good reason for having kept that secret, I don’t think it comes across as that persuasive in the narrative.  A one-line explanation for why someone has hidden something for her entire life, and then a moving past that moment, is not too provocative.

The Secrets of Midwives is simply not the book for me.  With poor prose and a generally flat plot, it did not give me much to read for.  The scenes of the actual midwifery will probably be appealing to many readers.  However, I think Call the Midwife manages to get themes of the beauty and difficulties of life and motherhood across more compellingly, so anyone who has seen the show—and buys this book because they have seen the show and are now interested in midwives—might be disappointed by the book’s comparative lifelessness.  I’m disappointed I could not like the book more, but I predict the book will have a lot of commercial success, my opinion notwithstanding.