Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse - Jennifer Worth

Trigger Warnings: graphic medical issues discussed, child abuse (all forms), child sexual abuse (alluded to, no direct or graphic depictions), brother-sister incest, scenes of war and battles.

 

Review:

This book avoids all things pregnancy/birthing/children and devotes itself to the elderly and issues surrounding aging in all health related areas (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual). If you are not really into the pregnancy/children thing but still want a wonderful read that will give you a history of underrepresented people (the poor and working class of the East End of London) - please pick this book up. I can not recommend it enough!

 

First section deals with three people who spent their childhoods in the workhouses (two girls - Jane and Peggy - and a boy - Peggy's older brother Frank). Heartbreaking stuff, but the human spirit shine and survives despite all the bleakness and everyone gets their happy ending. Have a box of tissues handy. I felt the show really cheated us out of the characters back stories.

 

Second section deals with aging in general and the beginnings of senile/dementia. The character that suffers dementia is a retired nurse/nun. I loved this character on the show, was less than impress with her from the first book, and here in this book I don't like her at all - which is why I knocked a star off the rating. I just can't believe this arrogant and manipulative bitch devoted her life to nursing and monastic life. She was the worst nun I have ever "encountered" (speaking as a person who was raised Roman Catholic). The show followed closely with what happened in the book, so no surprises. I felt that Worth's loyalty to and defense of Sister Monica Joan was misplaced and she was a bit too enthralled with the manipulative nun, sometimes causing a rift between her and her more common sense civilian colleagues. I felt that dementia was used as a "get out of jail free" card; I would have liked to see dementia and senility dealt with using any other patient rather than Sister Monica Joan because it is so important to talk about and explore.

 

Third section deals with a former British Empire soldier and retired postman. Mr. Joseph Collett was the most fascinating character that was cheated out of airtime on the show. He summarized my feelings on a wide range of military-related topics. I felt a deep kinship through Worth's words and accounts of her time spent with Mr. Collett. Worth shines here as well (which redeemed her in my eyes after the Sister Monica Joan section), as a young person eagerly wanting to know and understand the history of her country and the people who came before her (Mr. Collett and her uncle especially).

 

The history of the workhouses was woven into the stories seamlessly, as did the military history of the British Empire (especially in Africa and the two World Wars). Again, I highly recommend this book even if you don't want to get into the full series of pregnancy/babies. It is quite refreshing, often heartbreaking, but so worthy of a read. The Cockney accent is getting easier to read and doesn't slow my reading down as much. 4 stars.