The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is the feminist’s version of The Road. It follows an unnamed woman as she travels through an apocalyptic wasteland. A mysterious disease has greatly reduced the Earth’s population, killing mostly women and children. Elison takes the question of what would happen in such a situation very seriously. Imagine a world where women are scarce, but men are in great abundance. There are kind men, bt there are also evil men. In this world, women are seen as possessions by most of the men left. Sex with women the men control is used for barter, and the men use them to meet their needs themselves. Some women are kept in captivity based solely on fear, some because the men they are with are “better than most”, and some are kept in chains on leashes. It’s a horrifying world that’s made the more horrifying because it doesn’t feel unrealistic.
Across this landscape, we follow a nurse who has survived the plague only to emerge in this world where she is constantly in danger. So, she does what she must to find a safe way through the world: she passes as a man. In this way, she keeps moving, from one place to the next, looking for places she can stay in safely, and looking for women she can help. She encounters horrors beyond imagining, but also finds solace in the books she finds and some of the people she encounters.
This book, as so many I seem to be reading this year, was not an easy read. It was especially a hard read because I am a woman, and I found the book eerily scary based on how realistic it seemed (not unlike The Handmaid’s Tale). At times, the pace dragged, but, overall, the woman’s search for a life was engaging and I found myself rooting for her to survive and thrive. I also found myself searching her world for any small beauty, kindness, or happiness, and these things were mostly difficult to find. Hope, however, wasn’t always far away. I also appreciated that the ending was pretty conclusive, and left me feeling satisfied with her journey. I highly recommend this book if you are a fan of post-apocalyptic novels or of reading books with strong female characters.
I received a copy of this galley from NetGalley and 47North in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Release Date: October 11, 2016 (though the book was originally released in 2014)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars