The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
Read by Angela Dawes
Around 10 years ago, before the Hunger Games, before the glut of self publishing, before the sociological unease brought the psychic foreshadowing of a Trump administration, before whatever triggered this saturation of dystopian literature to flood the world, any time I saw a new apocalyptic novel I squeeled with childish glee. Since I was 13 and I found a battered copy of the original version of The Stand at the Grundy Memorial library, I loved this genre of fiction. To me, despite there being many great classics, the genre was always defined by my experience with three novels, The Stand, Robert McCammon’s Swan Song and A Gift Upon the Shore by MK Wren. These books filled me with hope and dread, and showed me I can love and hate the same character. I can’t help but judge books in this genre by the standard created by these experiences. Very few novels have even come close.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife once again reminded me why I loved these books. Full of human characters thrown into a inhuman world, this novel showed us the best and worst of humanity. I loved that the main character was unique and complicated in her humanity and not just some uber prepper living out some childish fantasy. Elison made me uncomfortable, made me question my own preconceptions and presented not an escapist fantasy but a stark and compelling vision of a potentially dark future. Yet despite the darkness, there was enough of a glimmer of light in the distance that I couldn’t help but willingly trek my way down that tunnel. At moments I was reminded of The Stand and A Gift Upon the Shore but The Book of the Unnamed Midwife didn’t just build on ashes of the genre classics but forged its own new path.
I’ve always thought that there were narrators skilled at the youthfulness of YA novel while others had the maturity to handle more adult literature yet Angela Dawes is the exception that excels at both. One of the biggest areas of critique for any narrator his their ability to voice the opposite sex but here Dawes must voice a female character pretending to be male and she does it perfectly. She captured the nuance of this novel revealing aspects I may have missed reading it and turned the potentially awkward epistolary aspects of the narrative into an almost rhythmic poetry. She had me enthralled from the beginning and kept me anxiously waiting for each new leg of the journey.