Review: The Birth House – Ami McKay

Read: 12
To Go: 88

Book List
11. The Conversations – Michael Ondaatje
12. The Birth House – Ami McKay

I’ve had Ami McKay’s The Birth House sitting, half finished, on my dresser since I returned to residence in early January. It was only today – tonight, rather – that I was actually able to sit down and finish the other half. While I’m quite happy that I finally read it all, the book didn’t exactly resonate with me in the way that really excellent books should.

The Birth House tells the story of Dora Rare, a young lady (my age, actually) who takes to the dying art of midwifery in a world where science, medicine, and hospitals are quickly eradicating a long-standing tradition, set to the backdrop of the first world war and the Halifax explosion.

The prose was beautiful and set each and every scene effortlessly – I could see Scots Bay as if I was standing right in it. The characters were as three-dimensional as my friends. But still, that magical X factor was missing for me.

I did like it – don’t get me wrong. I didn’t love it, though. The story itself never really got its hooks in me; it didn’t refuse to let me go. If I wasn’t so stubborn to finish every book I start, I wouldn’t have really felt compelled to make it to the last page.

However, I have to applaud McKay for historical accuracy – or at least, what I’d assume to be historical accuracy – regarding the characters’ feelings and actions pertaining to marriage, birthing, and male/female dynamics. The sentiments expressed by men – and women – in the book were those that I’d expect for that period. And, if there were any parts in the novel that made me connect emotionally, it was those times.

I. Was. Livid.

McKay’s strongest asset is writing characters – believable characters with mindsets that correctly echo the collective feelings of society at that time. Dr. Thomas, for example, was one of those characters that just makes your blood boil. He was so anti-feminist –  anti-women, actually – but managed to thinly conceal it through his overbearing “concern” for soon-to-be mothers. I would’ve liked to kick his teeth in – and that’s when you know a character is realistic. Archer was another character on my hit-list; the guy was just a grade-A spoiled rotten asshole.

Dora, to contrast, was a great protagonist: she was strong-willed and brave, stuck to her convictions, and wasn’t afraid to stand on the margins of society if it meant protecting the women of the Bay. Hart was wonderful as well – and I would’ve liked to see much more of him.

I tend to find that books like The Birth House ignite the raging feminist in me, and I actually get angry at the whole text. I haven’t decided yet if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it does hamper my overall enjoyment of the book if all I feel is rage with the characters, rage with the mindset, rage with the dialogue…you get the picture.

Regardless, I would recommend The Birth House. It was well-written and interesting; it just wasn’t my particular cup of tea.

Next book: Essex County – Jeff Lemire

– Kelsey

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