The Nightingale Girls

Written by Donna Douglas
Review by Jane Lawrenson

This is a story about love and life for three very different girls as they become nurses on the wards of a pre-war London hospital. Set in the 1930s, the book follows them through their struggles and personal lives. Dora comes from a poor background but will make an excellent nurse; despite her hardship, poverty and abusive stepfather, it is all she has ever wanted to do. Helen has her own problems with an overbearing mother who she is desperate to break away from and who also happens to be the formidable trustee of the hospital, which makes it hard for the others to trust her. Millie is a beloved daughter of an aristocrat. Her carefree demeanour gets her into all sorts of trouble, and throughout the book I wondered why she wanted to be a nurse as she obviously prefers a more glamorous lifestyle!

The book is easy to read and well written, and the characters are believable. I especially liked Dora and was rooting for her all the way through. It really captures a sense of the times, and the historical details and descriptions add to the story and are well executed. It is a good snapshot of nursing at the time. The rules and regulations are so extreme: no talking to men, not speaking until you are spoken to, and so on, but you still pick up on the fun that the students have despite these limitations.

This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in times gone by and, like the ever-popular Call the Midwife television series, it is an enlightening and thought-provoking read as well as entertaining. I would love to read more about the girls, so can’t wait for a follow up.