Midwives – Chris Bohjalian
Genre: Contemporary; Mystery
Summary: In what should be a routine labor for experienced midwife, Sibyl Danforth, everything takes a tragic turn when unexpected complications arise that leave her patient, Charlotte, dead. While grappling with her grief, Sibyl soon finds herself on trial, as she is being implicated in Charlotte’s demise. Will the true events from that fatal evening ever be revealed?
Review: I’m usually not the biggest fan of mysteries, but I read and enjoyed another of Bohjalian’s books, The Sandcastle Girls, so I thought I’d give Midwives a try. Fortunately, I found Midwives to be just as intriguing as The Sandcastle Girls, although the subject matter varied greatly, and I was hooked from start to finish.
One of the shining aspects of Midwives was the suspense. This book could have gotten stale incredibly quickly, but there was action throughout and I was never bored. I really liked how the element of doubt pervaded every aspect of the novel, and just as I was convinced of one thing, Midwives would slap me in the face with new evidence that would blow my mind and make me think a different way. Additionally, the way the story was revealed in bits and pieces was an excellent strategy when dealing with the events of the fatal night and the subsequent trial.
I also really liked that an excerpt from Sibyl’s diary was included in nearly every chapter, as it shed insight into her life and what had occurred that the reader wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Sibyl herself was very unreliable, often questioning whether she did the right thing, and I would imagine that anyone would feel much the same way if he or she was in Sibyl’s shoes.
Reading the story from Sibyl’s daughter, Connie’s, perspective, made Midwives absolutely fascinating. Connie wasn’t there when everything went down, though she did sometimes accompany Sibyl to births, but she always seemed to know exactly what had transpired on the night in question with absolute certainty. By providing this perspective, it really allowed the reader to see how other people were affected by everything that was happening besides the person on trial, Sibyl. Connie’s life changed dramatically because of her mother, and her perspective served to humanize the entire trial and the emotional impact it wrought in her life.
In addition to this book being suspenseful, it also provided a really good background on midwifery. Going into this, I had no idea what midwifery even consisted of, and it was really interesting to see what it actually is, even though some scenes did make me a bit squeamish (but I’m sure I would have felt the same way had I been reading about a hospital birth.) Midwives also brought ethical and moral questions to the table, especially as it relates to hospital and home births, and the nature of guilt and innocence, and it was interesting to see so many perspectives represented.
What an ending! Just when I was sure I had everything figured out, every notion I had was turned on its head on the very last page of the book. I’m pretty sure I exclaimed “What?” as I re-read it a few times, trying to ensure that what I was seeing was actually printed on the page. To say that it left me thinking for awhile afterward is probably the biggest understatement of the year, and it was the perfect way to end this book.
If you’re looking for a suspenseful read that will leave you guessing until the very last page, give Midwives a try. I can’t wait to read more of Chris Bohjalian’s books!
Other Books by Chris Bohjalian – The Double Bind, Skeletons at the Feast, The Sandcastle Girls, The Night Strangers