The Midnight Midwife

Written by Annelisa Christensen
Review by Jackie Drohan

Almost luxurious in its period detail and style, The Midnight Midwife rings with emotional honesty and historicity. In late 17th-century England, never-married Abigale Harris is passionate about the upbringing of her three adopted daughters—Judith, Elin, and the exotic, striking Mary—while plying her profession as midwife. The reader is immediately drawn into the rich, often raucous details of rural village life and its colorful, multifaceted characters, chief among these Mrs. Brown, the intrusively gossipy baker’s wife. Abigale navigates ignorance and superstition in addition to the sleepless hardships of single motherhood and her profession with determination and a deep, unfailing joy.

But any risk to her reputation is a risk to a single woman’s livelihood in those tenuous times, as well as the well-being of Abigale’s family. And her daughter Mary carries a secret which could destroy them all if discovered.

While frugal, the narrative arc has all the elements of conflict a reader could want, many playing out internally. As Mary matures, so does her resentment; and Abigale’s guilt and worry increase that she may have chosen wrongly in imposing such a burden upon her daughter. While it is difficult to say much about the reveal, as it risks spoiling the central plot point, the dilemma’s emotional complexity, and a flawless use of perspective, are the novel’s most compelling aspects.

The dialog is a feast: energetic and charming in its period touches, with a style that flows languidly and a deeply feminine texture that makes the pages turn themselves. This is historical fiction at its best. Highly recommended.