on July 7, 2006
While I am normally a huge fan of historical fiction, I was not that impressed by this novel. I found the characters to be underdeveloped and the plot stilted. I found myself skipping over a lot of superfluous information that did nothing to further the story or enhance the characters. Before I get yelled at by those who love the book, I would like to say that I very much enjoyed the glimpse into the history of midwives/birth and woman's rights as well as the subtle yet clever parallels between the two. (IE the "birth" of women's rights and freedoms). However, I still felt it could have benefited from a good editor and the fleshing out of the plot.
on August 6, 2007
Although "The Birth House" was not a bad book, I cannot understand why it continues to be ranted and raved about. I've read several books about the lives of midwives and this one is no different - you have the eccentric old midwife who is both loved and despised by the community she serves, the prodigious young girl who is fated to take the old woman's place, and plenty of myths and controversy surrounding the credibility of midwifery. Perhaps the only difference with "The Birth House" - and in my opinion, the only reason why such a fuss continues to be made over it - is that it is set in a tiny Nova Scotian fishing village. The articles and advertisements that are featured throughout the book are a nice touch, however, as is the herbal glossary at the end, but cannot save "The Birth House" from becoming a forgettable book.
Ami McKay has created a compelling narrative about midwifery and cronehood in rural Nova Scotia - using the term "crone" to describe a knowledgeable older woman. However, I felt uncomfortable throughout the book because I kept getting the feeling she was inserting anomalies - I didn't feel she had researched midwifery herbs much (in fact mentioning a few that would most likely not have been available in rural Nova Scotia at that time). Her description of the birthing centre and the "twilight sleep" phenomenon, which was already losing favor at the time of the novel, but might, admittedly, still be in use, triggered my suspicions of a novel not well-researched.
What I found really distracting was the mono-dimensionality of her characters, however. In a book reciving this degree of praise, I would have expected more completely drawn characters. Instead we are treated to undefined people, like the author's main character, her mysterious missing mother, who continually opts out of any defining event, the stereotypical Fran. The men, with the exception of the handyman "Hart" (the name makes me groan), are brutal, drunk, vicious, and hateful. I've been to rural Nova Scotia, and no, it really isn't so! When the vicar is found having sex with Fran, one can only say, with a sigh, of course.
To be fair, I think the author bit off more than she could chew, trying to cover too many diverse storylines and foci. There's a bit about homosexuality in Halifax that really didn't need to be there - in fact the whole fleeing to Halifax thing read false, and my feeling was the author had run out of ideas and needed to change venues to add pages. Perhaps a better editor would have removed this section as it adds nothing to the story. The Halifax explosion is included, also, but skimmed over and incomplete, with just talk of the horrors, yes. Again, more research might have helped - or more in depth analysis of how Dora reacted to the situation, what she was able to do.
Finally, as a nurse, who worked with midwives, it would have been fascinating to hear more about the practice at that time, to hear about Dora's education or more about Mrs. B.'s learnings. This, too, was passed over.
On the positive side, the story flowed well and kept me interested til the end - but it was like a marshmallow cookie - ultimately unfulfilling.