I love this book. I can’t ever really call myself a full londoner, not having been born within hearing of the Bow bells, or even on this side of the globe, but the heartfelt stories within in this memoir make you yearn a little to be a Cockney Sparra.
Set in the East End area of Poplar in 1950s post-war London, it is the memoir of a midwife living in Nonnatus house (a convent that houses and trains the non-religious midwives), delivering babies in the appalling conditions and primitive medical practices of the time (compared to the modern day). The stories share the joyful, sometimes easy and sometimes traumatic ordeals they go through for instance Conchita Warren who will give birth to both her twenty-forth and twenty-fifth child but also the light-hearted going-on in the Nunnery.
It’s Jennifer Worth’s memoirs, and the midwives surrounding her are fab – boy mad Trixie, shy Cynthia and eccentric Chummy. Then you have the Nuns – Sister Monica Joan, Sister Julienne Sister Evangeline and Sister Bernadette. I know I probably mutter onin book reviews about characters all the time, but for me, as well as the setting and action, characters bring the world alive and this one – you could almost be sitting at the kitchen table of Nonnatus house with a cup of tea and Mrs B’s fresh cake (that’s if Sister Monica Joan thought the moons aligned properly and had eaten all of it first – she really is one of the best characters!).
“The brothels of Cable Street, the Kray brothers, the meth drinkers in the warsites… Babies were born in slum conditions, often with no running water”
The passion, forbearance and joy that is found throughout the birth stories of the Cockney families will make you laugh and cry, and wonder at the skill of the midwives as the families coped with the living conditions. They didn’t have much after the war, but they had a community.
Jenny’s voice – as an older woman recounting the happenings is spellbinding – I couldn’t put the book down and then when the BBC produced a series we adored it (which doesn’t happen often – normally I find the movie/series after a book disappointing) the actors cast were perfect for the roles – especially Chummy (Miranda Hart). You can guarantee that mid-way through each episode I was in tears (which amused hubby no end).
I even found a web article about the real midwives who inspired the book here. As a young ‘un I remember reading A Lamp is Heavy by Sheila Mackay Russell
which is an old book about the training ups and downs of a nurse (why we had it in our house I’m not sure) which may explain my fascination.
Ps. I just found out there is a whole Call the Midwife book series – talk about making my day!
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