I approached this novel with trepidation – I enjoyed ‘Call The Midwife’ on TV but doctor / nurse romances are just not my thing at all. And yet this was a thoroughly good read.
The fourth in a series of novels, this continues the story of a group of trainee nurses in the east end of London in the mid 1930s. There is an awful lot of back story which has to be touched on enough to be informative but the author does not try to summarise the previous three novels. And yet the story flows so well that the characters become familiar very quickly.
This story concerns the last year of study for one group of nurses, mainly Dora and Lucy and their experiences, how their lives are altered and how this reflects on them as people, the changes wrought on them and how they come to terms as much with each other as with their own problems. We also meet new characters to the Nightingale series – Effie and Jess. Younger than Dora and Lucy, they also have issues to overcome, Jess more so, coming from a notorious family in the East End which she struggles to free herself from. There is a plethora of supporting characters, nurses, other students, who act as foils for the main four and allow them to develop and grow.
What I take from this novel is two-fold. Firstly Donna Douglas brings together a collection of disparate characters from a variety of social backgrounds and allows them to find the common ground that unites them. Secondly Ms Douglas tackles the delicate issue of sexual abuse in the family in a sympathetic manner, avoiding the dramatic or sentimental, and yet manages to not gloss over the effects on family and victim.
As a historical novel, this is, of course, recent history, and indeed having chatted to my mother-in-law, the teaching methods and terminology had not changed when she trained in the 60s! The sense of the East End and indeed London in general comes across without being grim and depressing. With the novel set in 1937, hopefully Ms Douglas will go on to write more about this group of nurses and the imminent out-break of war will provide enough material to make the next few in the series fascinating.