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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Book Review: Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

The inspiration for the hit television series, this is the first of Jennifer Worth's books about her experiences as a midwife in 1950s London. Written in episodic chapters, this is an engrossing memoir that is informative, moving and amusing in places.

One of Worth's strengths is the ability to explain without being condescending. Yes, by the very nature of the subject matter, things do get a little gory at times, but this tempered by moments of sheer beauty. Worth manages to conjure up her youthful self brilliantly and isn't afraid to highlight her own inexperience, naivety and, occasionally, prejudice.

The tales in this book have been used to a greater or lesser extent in the television adaptation. Even so, I heartily recommend reading the book for the subtle differences that are sometimes more enjoyable for being true. Perhaps my favourite of these is Worth's recounting of how involved Sister Julienne got in trying to encourage handyman Fred's pig-breeding activities. I laughed out loud, partly from the situation that ensues and partly due to Worth's expert recounting of it.

Several tales in this book span multiple chapters, maintaining the compact feeling of the book while allowing expansion on the stories of certain people. The story of a young woman coerced into prostitution is particularly dark, fitting into a wider analysis of the trade in East London at that time. Equally, the case of Mrs Jenkins and her experiences in the workhouse is heartbreaking.

There's a reason that this book is a best-seller and has been adapted into a hugely successful television series. Quite simply, it's well-written and heartfelt and I'm looking forward to reading the next book very soon.

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