On the front cover* of Call the Midwife is the sentence ‘A true story of the East End in the 1950s’. The book is exactly that, so if you’ve ever wanted to know about working in healthcare during this period, then this is the book to read.
Not only is there their medicinal relevance in Midwife in the form of treatments and procedures, there’s also relatability in its people. Jennifer is great at bringing the East End’s ‘characters’, locals with a defining personality trait or two, to life.
Anyone with a local high street will think of the regular faces they see there and crack a smirk trying to match them with their East End counterparts.
The book gets a third tick for the excitement it generates. I didn’t want it to finish, and with each sitting I looked forward to hearing about a day, or week, or month, in Jennifer’s professional life.
Midwife does sometimes fall on cliché when sharing its stories, which will briefly infuriate word-critical readers. But as Jennifer is a midwife first and writer second, what she says is more important than how she says it.
There’s also a point where the focus shifts entirely to one of Jennifer’s patients and the ordeals they’ve been through. Some could see this as over-indulging in backstory, but it makes for heart-thumping reading.
At the end of the book, there’s a passage of text called Frank. This gets no mention in the contents pages and reads like fiction. A preface giving Frank some context would have been useful, but this doesn’t distract from Midwife’s impressiveness.
An excellent storyteller
With honesty maintained well beyond its first signposting and relevance and relatability to be found along the way, Call the Midwife works 1950s medicine into a great narrative. Despite describing some unique experiences in familiar terms, Jennifer is a mesmerizing storyteller.
*I’m reading the 2008 paperback edition, published by Phoenix.