Lauren's Reviews > The Birth House

The Birth House by Ami McKay
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's review
Sep 28, 2010

really liked it

The Birth House is an interesting look at village in Nova Scotia during World War I. Scots Bay is not quite modern. There is no electricity, everyone knows everyone, and there is no local doctor. The nearest doctor is in the larger town of Canning. The story opens with Dora Rare, the first daughter in generations of a family that is not supposed to have any girls. For this reason (and the fact that Dora was born in a caul), villagers are a bit suspicious of Dora, wondering if she has magical powers (for example, the ability to cause the birth of a three legged calf). The local midwife, an aging Acadian spinster named Miss Babineau (Miss B), takes Dora under her wing as Miss B. has selected Dora as her successor. Dora attends various births and trains in herbs and folklore in somewhat reluctant training for her future role as midwife. However, as Dora trains, a new Doctor comes on the scene. The Doctor has opened a birth facility in Canning, where he hopes the Scots Bay women can give up their primitive ways and enjoy the newfangled use of twilight birth and forceps.

The novel is written in a scrap book fashion, with Dora's diary entries, thoughts, letters, newspaper clippings, home remedies, and advertisements. I really enjoyed this eclectic style. I thought Dora and Miss Babineau were great characters. She was multifaceted and passionate. Unfortunately, the male characters were charicatures and I felt that many characters were there for a reason. Aunt Fran was the outwardly straight-laced, religious character. Grace Hutner was the town slut. The Doctor was the buffoon obstetrician who served to show that home births and midwives are superior to modern medicine. Mr. Ketch was the village drunk and wife abuser. And so on. I wish the other characters were as well fleshed out.


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