Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review: The Secrets of Midwives

On a rainy, gross day, snuggling up with a book and a sleepy kitty is pretty great. What makes it even better is when the book is so well-written, it captures your attention early on and holds it until the very end. That is the case with The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth. 

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Hepworth's in-depth research offers an intriguing view into the world of midwifery, something I know absolutely nothing about, and covers a period of sixty years. Beyond the midwifery, and at the heart of the novel, are well-developed characters: three women from three generations who explore the mother-daughter relationship.

The chapters alternate from the first person point of view of grandmother Floss, to mother Grace, to daughter Neva, all three of whom are midwives. This structure, while not unique, works well to build the tension as the characters share their individual secrets and issues with the reader, but not with one another. Grace tends to be the least likable of the three; she is overly opinionated and slightly offensive with her intense hatred of doctors and hospitals. While Neva is easier to care about, it is Floss, a retired midwife, who is the most interesting of the three women. Her story transports the reader back in time to England, where she rides a bicycle to make house calls and deliver babies, before she comes across the Atlantic with her newborn daughter and settles in Rhode Island.

Floss carries a secret that she fears with destroy her relationship with Grace and Neva; however, she wonders if continuing to hide her secrets is perhaps more harmful than actually sharing them. Grace's secrets are of a totally different nature, but could have serious consequences if they are revealed. Neva is reticent, single, and pregnant. She hides her pregnancy for as long as possible, refusing to name the father of her child.

A strong thread throughout the novel examines marriage and adoption, as well as the concept of what makes a family a family, something that I feel resonated very strongly with me as a newly married woman balancing my new family (David and Warren, the cat) with that of my "old" family (my parents and sister). Hepworth not only examines multiple relationships in the novel, but she also moves flawlessly from one character's voice to another.

The Secrets of Midwives starts a bit slow, but the momentum begins to pick up by page thirty. This introduction is necessary, though, in order for Hepworth to establish the groundwork to create the story. Overall, it was a quick read and the characters were extremely well-written: fully fleshed out with their thoughts, feelings, and emotions brought into the story. I give The Secrets of Midwives an 9 out of 10.

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