CW: Discussions of rape/sexual assault, genital mutilation, childbirth/forced childbirth and death in childbirth, suicide, and disease.
Title: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
Series Title: Road to Nowhere
Author: Meg Elison
Date Added: September 22, 2018
Date Started: September 28, 2018
Date DNF: October 3, 2018
Reading Duration: 5 days
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Post Apocalyptic, LGBTQ+
Publication Date: June 4, 2014
Philip K. Dick Award Winner for Distinguished Science Fiction
When she fell asleep, the world was doomed. When she awoke, it was dead.
In the wake of a fever that decimated the earth’s population—killing women and children and making childbirth deadly for the mother and infant—the midwife must pick her way through the bones of the world she once knew to find her place in this dangerous new one. Gone are the pillars of civilization. All that remains is power—and the strong who possess it.
A few women like her survived, though they are scarce. Even fewer are safe from the clans of men, who, driven by fear, seek to control those remaining. To preserve her freedom, she dons men’s clothing, goes by false names, and avoids as many people as possible. But as the world continues to grapple with its terrible circumstances, she’ll discover a role greater than chasing a pale imitation of independence.
After all, if humanity is to be reborn, someone must be its guide.
This is one of the many books I bought immediately after reading a sample, especially since it was only $1.99. The trope of “last people at the end of the world” is common, of course, but the writing was so raw and realistic, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. The “end” comes due to a pandemic,
but it kills more than 90% of the population, mostly women and children, utterly destroying any semblance of civilization…and I mean that literally with regards to the term “civilized.”
The titular midwife learns to perform toxic masculinity in order to survive unmolested, and while part of me wants to believe things wouldn’t turn out like this, another more realistic/pessimistic part of me knows it’s true: if there were no institutional pillars to curtail it, rape and forced birth would be a horrifying reality for the survivors. I mean it already is for a large portion of the population, so imagine if there weren’t any laws against it (granted those laws only protect a certain swath of victims, but that’s a whole other discussion).
While I was very much engaged with the midwife’s story and crusade to provide birth control, I had to DNF after the section titled “The Book of Roxanne.” It describes a harrowing experience of childbirth and is absolutely gutting. Childbirth et al is triggering for me even though one, I want to be a parent; and two, I literally wrote a fanfiction story about rape and forced birth, but I find I often disassociate in the process (though it always bites me in the ass during the edit).
So I, in now way, did not finish this because it’s poorly written. I had to DNF because it was too fucking real. Meg Elison, whom I didn’t realize I followed on Twitter until I started reading this novel, has written one of the most realistic depictions of the world after an apocalyptic pandemic since The Last of Us (don’t @ me…I mean the response to it not so much the cause, and of course my claim comes with caveats I’ll discuss when I eventually do a review of that), though in Elison’s story it works along assigned gender lines. It’s nightmarish if you have a uterus, and yet nothing in either history or current events makes it ring untrue. The unnamed midwife’s goal is to give out birth control, because that’s the only thing she can offer: the ability to (possibly) curtail birth, not the assault that would cause it.
This book contains rape/sexual assault, graphic descriptions of childbirth/death in childbirth, genital mutilation, suicide, disease, and is just generally grimdark. It’s an important book that needs to be in the zeitgeist, but no one should harm themselves by reading something potentially damaging. I do highly recommend it if you’re able to stomach it, but I’d also recommend you check out this review by my buddy Cupcakes and Machetes who gives a much different perspective before you do.
I am going to check out other books by this author and am currently following her on Goodreads as well as the fore mentioned Twitter. Seriously, look at how cute and glam she is!
7 thoughts on “The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison (The Road to Nowhere #1) (DNF)”
Thanks for the heads up on the potential triggers. I don’t think I’d be able to handle those kinds of events. But I will keep my eye on the author for other books that may not be so visceral.
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Always! I try to always warn for things like this in anything I review or just my blog itself. I wasn’t able to handle it at all. I have another of her books on my to be read list, which seems like it’s intense, too, but not with all of that other stuff (hopefully).
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I had to go back and read my review because after several years, I forgot about most of this book. I am very picky about post-apocalyptic/dystopian books because it is two of my favorite genres. Plus, I am very into the survival thing because my dad has been super into it my whole life. On another note, that I am not sure how I missed mentioning or being irritated by, expiration dates on birth control. I don’t remember how long after this plague wipes out humanity that this story takes place, but birth control is one of the few drugs that I wouldn’t expect to work very well past its expiration.
Anywho! I am glad you mostly enjoyed yourself reading it. It wasn’t a bad book in my opinion, just a boring one. 🙂
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I never knew that about the birth control! I know meds have expiration dates, but never knew BC had such a short one. It makes sense. I know BC is also dependent on weight like the morning after pill is one of those. I remember hearing how gasoline does not last at all so movies like Mad Max et al couldn’t happen because those vehicles would not be moving.
I feel like a lot of stories are a balance of “what can I allow because this is cool” vs. “oh hell no this is not gonna fly.”
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“The titular midwife learns to perform toxic masculinity in order to survive unmolested” Wow, that is certainly deep! Imagine how women had to adopt different gender roles in the PAST, just to deal with similar circumstances?!
I’m unsure if you’re being sarcastic or genuine, and if it’s the former, what’s your reasoning behind this comment? That is the case in this story. I didn’t say it wasn’t something that hadn’t occurred in the past or still does.