The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

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Meg Elison’s 2014 debut has one of those titles that makes you think twice. At first glance, it appears maybe a bit generic, vague, clunky…? You might think you’ll be reading a lot about babies being delivered. But don’t worry! This is a legit post-apocalyptic book rather than one of those that pretends to be but is really just fiction with the apocalypse as an afterthought, set way in the background (I’m looking at you, Station Eleven).

Almost everyone catches a virus and is horribly sick. The women and children? Almost all of them die. So society falls, and women are EXTREMELY rare. What do you think is going to happen? Roving gangs of men enslave any woman they find, while other women form “hives,” where they rule like queens. Any woman who is unfortunate enough to become pregnant, either dies in childbirth, or survives, but their babies are stillborn. One hundred percent of newborn babies die. It’s not pretty.

There is a lot of violence towards women (and men) in this. There are triggers of many kinds. The book doesn’t go into graphic, prolonged detail, but it’s there.

However, I enjoyed this. Jane’s story was very interesting. She chooses to become a man because it’s safer (cross-dressing trope – yay). I won’t go into the things that happen to her, but it’s a story worth reading (if you can stomach lots of cursing and violence and people being pretty despicable). Jane is a strong female, but she also has a more, let’s say, progressive, set of morals than your average character.

The ending is hopeful. I won’t say more. It has a vague The Road vibe to it and is an easy read. It alternates between first person journal entries and third person narrative.

She starts out in the San Fransisco bay area and she spends a winter in Utah before finding a group she settles down with. The writing was a little choppy, and filled with short sentences, but it really worked for me. It definitely gets you out of your comfort zone, but I didn’t feel like it was too much.

Buddy read with the MacHalo group.

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Like Shelly, when I first saw the title I was quick to file the book under a category that was definitely not post-apocalypse, science fiction. As misleading as the title is, I actually kind of dig it. It is quiet and unpretentious.

I won’t really give a synopsis since Shelly took care of that, but I will say this:

I found being inside the head of our unnamed protagonist a pretty sad and lonely place. The choices she had to make, the way of life she had to develop to survive, it’s something I hope I never have to do. She not only had to isolate herself for safety, but in order to survive no one could actually know her. Like really know her. She had to become someone new entirely, from her mannerisms to her thought patterns, her old life fell away and she became a person caught between.

It took me aback sometimes, realizing the toll this transformation took on her mentally. But that’s part of what made this book feel genuine, not like a watered down version of the end of society, but what could happen when no holds are barred on a world truly dominated by one sex. While this played out in nearly every horrible way you can imagine, there were some end results that made me go, “Well, that’s one way to turn the power around” and I had to give a little mental ‘atta girl, even though it was still a pretty awful turn of events.

If you want to read a story that feels like it could be the real version of a world gone horribly wrong, where humanity is tested and many people fail, this is worth a shot. And while that may seem very doom and gloom, it is, but in the end it is not without a glimmer of hope.

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