Monday, 12 August 2019

REVIEW - THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE - THE ROAD TO NOWHERE BY MEG ELISON

Title: The Book Of The Unnamed Midwife
Series: The Road To Nowhere
Author: Meg Elison
Genre: Literary Fiction, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Publisher: 47 North
Release Date: 11th October 2016

BLURB from Goodreads
When she fell asleep, the world was doomed. When she awoke, it was dead.

In the wake of a fever that decimated the earth’s population—killing women and children and making childbirth deadly for the mother and infant—the midwife must pick her way through the bones of the world she once knew to find her place in this dangerous new one. Gone are the pillars of civilization. All that remains is power—and the strong who possess it.

A few women like her survived, though they are scarce. Even fewer are safe from the clans of men, who, driven by fear, seek to control those remaining. To preserve her freedom, she dons men’s clothing, goes by false names, and avoids as many people as possible. But as the world continues to grapple with its terrible circumstances, she’ll discover a role greater than chasing a pale imitation of independence.

After all, if humanity is to be reborn, someone must be its guide.


PURCHASE LINKS

REVIEW
I had bought this one from Amazon UK back in December 2017 so it had been sat waiting on my kindle for me to get around to reading it for a while. I think it was one of those books I had bought and then forgot about! I had just finished reading a couple of books that had pregnancy as a major subject within them and I fancied reading something similar and whilst aimlessly searching by kindle for reading inspiration I came across The Unnamed Midwife and decided it was about time I read that!
The genres I have seen listed for this book are Sci-Fi and Literary Fiction, which I do agree with, though upon finishing reading the book I would also add Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic and maybe even a little futuristic.

At the beginning of the book we seem to be set in some sort of “future time” the prologue introduces us to Mother Ina who is wearing a false wooden nine months gestation pregnant belly even though she is clearly too old to really be pregnant. This detail sort of confused me a little and to a point I still don’t really know why Mother Ina was wearing a wooden pregnancy belly. Mother Ina is instructing the boys who are the latest chosen scribes to copy The Book Of The Unnamed Midwife. Mother Ina explains that it is not just one book but a collection of nineteen journals. She explains that the boys have already been taught the book of Canon which holds the story of dying and that it is a hard thing to read, it may make them feel sick, or upset. They have also learnt the book of Honus, which contains information about the hives. Mother Ina continues instructing them, that they will finish up with The Book of the Dreamless Ones then their training will be complete. Mother Ina drills into them that these books are very special and important. They are also very fragile and sensitive to light. It is the utmost importance that the information in them is kept and is to be handed down over the generations to come.

Then the actual book itself begins, the world in a state of widespread illness and panic. The main character of the book is the “Unnamed Midwife” whose real name we never really learn This strong female chooses a different name for every different person or group of people she meets. At the beginning of the book she is referred to “she” but the first time she uses a name it is “Karen” so I will refer to her as Karen now as it is easier to explain the book having a name for the character. It is her diary entries that form an important part of this book. Karen is a nurse and can’t remember the last time she had been at home, or even rested. Karen had been so busy with the constant influx of patients. Karen notices that the fever and illness seems, to be affecting women more. More and more of them are dying. Women that are pregnant are giving having stillbirths and then also dying themselves. Karen has hardly seen her partner Jack either. Jack is working non stop in the hospital labs to try and identify the infection and come up with a vaccine to prevent others succumbing to it or even to find a cure of some sort. The last time she saw Jack he had revealed to her that he still had a long way to go though he did think that this infection was autoimmune illness.

It’s not long until she herself falls ill and literally just finds a place to lie down and die. When she does reawaken, she doesn’t know how much time has passed or why she now seems to be fever free. She searches the hospital looking for Jack and in doing so finds lots of dead bodies, again she notices the greater percentage consists of women. She ventures outside of the hospital and is shocked by what she discovers. There are no buses, no cars moving, streetlights and no people. She makes her way to her apartment hoping Jack could be there as she hadn’t found his body in the hospital when she had searched. She is so tired she literally falls onto her bed and sleeps. Suddenly she is aware of the mattress moving as another body lies next to her. In her sleepy state at first, she thinks it is Jack and then realises it is some other man who is intent on raping her. She fights for her life and survives.
The first people she meets is a gay couple who give their names as Joe and Chicken, she gives her name as Karen. Karen is invited to eat a meal with them and spend the night. Later when Chicken goes out in search of water, he comes across other people and has to flee and ends up injuring himself quite badly. Karen treats Chicken’s leg and probably saves his life. They stick together for a while, going into office buildings to look for water, they survive a gas explosion and are almost caught by a gang of men. It’s then that Chicken bluntly tells Karen she is no longer welcome to travel with them as she will be putting them in more danger.
“Karen” soon decides she needs to hide the fact that she is a woman, as she meets different groups or lone survivors, she is all the more wary of trusting anyone with the fact she is a woman. So, she always gives a male name and says she was a field medic in Afghanistan and just leaves the fact that she is female out of her story. It is not until much later in the book that she reveals she is a qualified midwife. Her skills are certainly needed as some settlers are actively becoming pregnant thinking, they will be okay now the plague/fever seems to have died out. It is also towards the latter part of the book that, the then named Dusty comes across a settlement of what she calls Mormons though they prefer to be referred to as LDS. They believe they are doing Gods work in Huntsville, and they are going to repopulate the world. There are 59 settlers in total, 52 men of varying ages, 3 women consisting of an old woman (too old to have more children), a middle-aged woman and a young newly married woman. There are also 4 children comprising of 2 girls and 2 boys all under the age of 10. Dusty agrees to spending some time with the group as they try to convince her to stay with them. Dusty feels there is something odd and not right about the group and decides she would rather be on her own, though she does agree they can call on her for medical emergencies if needed.

The main character is female, what is turning out to be in scarce supply, making it hazardous to be a woman, especially a woman of child bearing age. She is hurt when Joe and Chicken turn their backs on her and I think she would have probably happily stayed with them. The fact they more or less abandon her gives her a harsh reality check, she has no one to rely on but herself. She cuts off her long hair, kits herself out in a vest to bind her chest and wears men’s clothing to disguise that she is female. She learns not to trust anyone. As she meets different people, she gives them all a different name. I wonder if it is meant to be that she no longer remembers her name as she was so ill. Or is it as she no longer identifies with the person she once was, and the world she now lives in that she gives different names. Or perhaps she simply doesn’t trust anyone to tell them the one thing she can keep to herself and that’s her real name. I really liked the “unnamed midwife” as a character, she is a tough woman determined not only to make it on her own but to help any women she comes across on her journey. She provides them with birth control, and any medical help she can give them without revealing herself as a mother.  

I loved the part of the book where “the unnamed midwife” ends up in a settlement literally called “Nowhere” and hears news of her partner Jack. It certainly makes both her and the reader go through a lot of “What if’s”. Things could have been so different if they had remained together, but then the realist part of her brain and the readers brain kicks in and thinks that the ending she has at the end of the book may never have happened. Had she been travelling with Jack maybe they both would be dead, or Jack dead and her a slave to the meant that would have killed him to get her.


I would say this book is an 18+ read with the content and subject matter of rape, and sexuality. I would say that the section concerning the LDS and how they were choosing to live in Huntsville may be uncomfortable reading for some too. I enjoyed the sections that were in diary form initially by the Unnamed Midwife using the various names she came up with, then the section that “Dusty” copied into her journal from the diary Honus had kept during his time on her mission from the LDS. Then there are the diary entries of the people who have come together to live in “Nowhere” too.  There is, also the sections where the narrator is telling the story which kept my interest going when some of the diary entries were a bit too slowly paced or a little too drawn out. This is the first book in a series and though at times the book felt a little slow in pace, I still want to read more of this series. I am definitely glad that I finally got around to reading this book. It reminded me a tiny bit of Sophie Littlefield’s, Aftertime Series, Post-Apocalyptic for adult readers. I would say that it’s a decent start to a potentially great series. 

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