Title: THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE
Author: MEG ELISON
Genre: FICTION, POST-APOCALYPTIC FICTION, WOMEN’S FICTION, LGBTQ
Length: 190 PAGES
Publisher: 47 NORTH
Cover Designer: CHRISTIAN FUENFHAUSEN
Publication Date: OCTOBER 11, 2016
Rating: 5 OUT OF 5 STARS
In almost every post-apocalyptic novel I have ever read (and I have read quite a few,) the author writes about the dark side of human nature that most people predict will take hold if, and when an apocalyptic event strikes our planet. In THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE this darkness is once again unleashed, albeit in a very unique and interesting situation. #tbotuh
However, author Meg Elison must be an optimist at heart since her book allows readers to believe that even in the darkest situation there is hope, and even in a world that appears that it just might not be worth saving, there might be people left who are holding onto their humanity with both hands. It is this hope that makes #TBOTUM such a compelling read.
Readers will be taken on a journey along with the main character as she travels on a northerly route from California to wherever she ends up. This journey is not only physical, but is also emotional and mental. From the craving for human companionship to the fear of running into the wrong type of people, readers will find themselves increasingly invested in the midwife’s survival.
Meg Elison has done the near impossible with this book – that is to get readers emotionally invested in the trials and tribulations of a character of whom they do not even know her real name. When asked near the beginning of the book what her name is, the midwife responds by telling the man her name is Karen. “She was not Karen. Karen had died a week ago, still wearing her name tag. He wasn’t going to ask for ID. She decided to be Karen for now.”
A fever followed by intense illness and then death has swept the globe. This pandemic is unlike anything ever experienced in human history. Women had a mortality rate around 99% and the Midwife discovered through her job in the Maternity Ward at a major hospital that no babies survived more than a few minutes after birth. In fact, most were stillborn. Despite the fact that all the marvels of modern medicine were still available, the mothers also died shortly after their infants. The mortality rate was 100% in newborn infants and in the general population, 99 out of 100 women who contracted the fever never recovered. Men were much luckier and therefore the ratio of females to males became skewed.
What happens when something you want is in short supply? You tend to stock up on that commodity and to guard what you have left. Well, this is similar to how men responded to the lack of available women. Once people realized that they were most likely not going to die from the plague, they began to think of what they wanted and needed to survive in the new, lawless, post-apocalyptic world they found themselves in.
I believe that when the constraints of society are removed in such a way that there is little hope of order ever being restored, that many people will allow their baser instincts to overrule the ideals of goodness and basic human decency. Add to that volatile situation a lack of food, a lack of purpose and a lack of consequences for their actions and you have some seriously big problems. Now, top off an already untenable situation with the fact that very few females survived the initial plague and anyone who knows anything at all about human nature will agree that this is a recipe for disaster.
Karen “Went to sleep and the world was dying … woke up and it was dead and gone.” After an intense and terrifying experience Karen is forced to kill a man to save herself from being raped and beaten. It is after that she realizes she needs to hide her femininity if she is to have any chance at long-term survival in this new world. Karen soon realizes that survival was not going to be her only challenge. In fact, it just might be the least of her problems.
I LOVE THIS BOOK! It is exceedingly difficult to surprise me, but THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE did exactly that.
The character of “Karen” is not your typical post-apocalyptic female survivor. She is complex in many ways and yet simple in others. She is tough as nails and yet she also craves human companionship (although she would never admit that to anyone). Too many books in this genre stick to gender stereotypes; THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE does not. By placing Karen in the role of the main character, author Meg Elison challenges the view that a woman must have a man with her in order to survive and thrive in a post-apocalyptic world.
Not only does this book entertain readers with a fascinating story, but it also points out the unique issues that would face women in a post-apocalyptic world. (Think tampons and birth control.) In a world where woman are almost guaranteed to die in childbirth, especially since hospitals are no longer operational, birth control would be more important than ever before. Karen stocks up on the injections required for months of preventing unwanted pregnancies and makes it her mission to offer it to anyone who wants or needs it. I can almost guarantee that no male novelist has ever written (or could write) anything similar to this book and have it come across as realistic and believable as it does in TBOTUM.
With this book, female Young Adult readers have a new heroine to celebrate and to cheer on. And to make her even more loveable, Karen is a BADASS. She doesn’t take crap from anyone and she is ready and willing to kill to protect herself.
Feminism and the power of women are not the only topics of discussion that come up when reading this book proving that Meg Elison is not afraid of controversy in her writing. This is demonstrated once again when Karen comes across a small religious settlement where residents act as if the apocalypse had not happened and present a good-looking face to the outside world. It is only once she looks deeper that she realizes that the leaders are using religion to rid themselves of unwanted rivals for the attentions of the few female residents. When Karen (dressed as a man and calling herself Rusty) tries to dissuade one man from leaving the safety of the town to travel far away as a missionary because that is what his bishop ordered him to do, she is frustrated when he dismisses her argument that it is too dangerous to travel with only a bible and his faith for protection. She realizes “There is no argument to be had with faith.”
Meg Elison has tackled the topics of women’s rights, gender equality, as well as the blind faith some people place in their religion, so it is only fitting t hat she also uses this book to bring up differing types of sexuality. In fact, our heroine is bi-sexual.
Aside from controversial topics being included in the narrative, this is just a damn good story. I thoroughly enjoyed the plot of this book as well as the numerous twists and turns – many of which I did not see coming. The conclusion is a masterpiece of the unexpected that readers will not see coming.
This book was originally written in 2014 and is being re-released in anticipation of the release in early 2017 of the second book in the series THE BOOK OF ETTA which I have already added to my TBR (To Be Read) list.
I rate THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE AS
5 OUT OF 5 STARS.
* I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Meg Elison is the author of THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE, a post-apocalyptic feminist speculative novel, Tiptree recommendation, and winner of the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award. The sequel to #TBOTUM is called THE BOOK OF ETTA and will be published in early 2017.
Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley. She lives in Oakland, throws themed sing-along parties, and appears at Bay Area literary events whenever someone allows it.
If she could eradicate one societal ill, it would be misogyny.
When she is alone she likes to live deliciously while she writes and breaks hearts.
The three women, dead or alive, she most wants to see square off on Jeopardy are Ada Lovelace, Margaret Atwood, and Queen Elizabeth I.
To learn more about this author visit the following links: