Monday, 27 May 2013

The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

Welcome to another edition of Megan's Damning With Faint Praise!

This book is fine. It is readable, it didn't piss me off, I enjoyed it while I was reading it. These are things I almost always say about books I liked but inspired me to no passion, one way or another. And it's true in this case as well.

But the main problem of this book is that I don't feel the urgency - she creates a situation that should make me anxious, but I wasn't feeling it. I was wondering if it was me, but then I picked up and read about 20 pages of Guy Gavriel Kay's latest, from a section near the end, and realized, no, it's not just me. Those 20 pages contained more tension than the entire book of The Midwife of Venice. And so, partly by comparison to a truly great work of sort-of historical fiction, this book falls flat.

I think I know why - the author tells us many times that the Jews are in constant danger in the ghetto at Venice, but nothing ever happens to make that threat real. We are told that enslaved men on Malta often die from maltreatment before they are ransomed, but that never happens either. We are told that babies frequently die in childbirth, and mothers, despite the skill of the midwife, which Hannah most certainly is, but they never do while in our sight. All these threats are told about, not shown to occur, not even to characters we have no connection to. 

Telling, in this case, does not work that well. We need to see those consequences, feel them keenly, dread them happening again. 

The characters are, for the most part, well-drawn, although they did suffer at times from inconsistentitis - you know, where characters do something entirely out of character, because it's what the plot demands. The main character, Hannah, when her sister reproaches her for something entirely reasonable, and for which Hannah has already held herself responsible, decides that this is outrageous, the straw that broke the camel's back, her sister is now dead to her! Sorry? Come again? 

So that's a problem - not a huge one, for it doesn't happen that often, but a problem. 

Yet, the characters are interesting, the book held my attention while I was reading it, it was a fast and non-taxing read. It's just not more than that, and it aspires to be more. I hope Roberta Rich writes more, and puts more on the line in future books, because she has skill, but not yet craftmanship.


  1. I can't agree more with you on! I thought there was so many wasted opportunities and I'm not sure why the author didn't develop them. It started off very strong and then just fizzled out.

  2. Yeah, it felt like she was too attached to her characters, and so didn't want anything to happen to them - but that's not great fiction.

  3. Your comment about this book on Goodreads brought me here. I agree that this book could have been so much more. As a writer of historical fiction myself I like to be immersed in the period and in the characters of the time and I'm afraid this book just didn't do it for me.
    I love your reviews here and will be back for more!

    1. Thanks very much for the kind words, Dorinda!