Caroline has hit rock bottom. After years of trying, it’s clear she can’t have children, and the pain has driven her and her husband apart. She isn’t pregnant, her husband is gone, and her beloved dog is dead.
The other women at her infertility support group have their own problems, too. Natalie’s girlfriend is much less excited about having children than her. Janet’s husband might be having an affair. And then there’s Ronnie, intriguing, mysterious Ronnie, who won’t tell anyone her story.
Catherine is sixteen and pregnant. Her boyfriend wants nothing to do with her, and her parents are ashamed. When she’s sent away to a convent for pregnant girls, she is desperate not to be separated from her child. But she knows she might risk losing the baby forever.
Waiting for the Miracle by Anna McPartlin Review
Raw, Real… Painfully Relatable – A Must Read
I have long been a fan of Anna McPartlin’s writing. Her novel, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes sucked me in from the first page, and I only recently read Below the Big Blue Sky (which, I devoured in a single day!). So, when I was asked to read and review Waiting for a Miracle for this blog tour, I was more than happy to oblige. It’s a tough job really when you have to find time to read a book in the sun and call it ‘work’.
Reading this beautiful novel was not hard work at all. In fact, it was a privilege.
This expertly crafted story weaves two narratives so seamlessly that you are left believing this story was only ever meant to be told this way. As if this story was born on the page, and it simply being relayed to us by a skilled storyteller over pot of tea with a blanket tucked over your lap. Most novelists aim for this to be the case, but in my opinion, there are only a few authors who truly execute the effortlessness that McPartlin achieves with her storytelling. The setting, historical references, and emotion help her achieve this.
At its heart, this is a story that taps into something deeply rooted in so many mothers across the globe. It explores the expectations we all have of motherhood. The internal and external struggles we all compete with. That idea that we still think we should fight to ‘have it all’.
We live in a society now that makes us believe we can. That we can choose a career, put our family ideas on pause, and decide when it’s the right time to have a child. When, in reality, so few of us get the chance to choose when life throws us curve balls. Having a child is not a given, and although infertility (in all its different guises) is a really tough subject to tackle, Anna McPartlin does it with care.
Part of me doesn’t want to go into too much detail in this review – I don’t want to skew anyone’s opinion, I want you to pick up this book and read it from cover to cover.. not because I told you to, but because I think everyone should. Because it tackles history, pain, and expectation. Because stories like this deserve to be written into the history books so we never forget.
Catherine’s story takes place in 1970’s Ireland, in a time when if you found yourself ‘with child’ as a young girl, there was an easy fix for that. You would simply be placed with the Nuns of the Catholic Church, but don’t expect to have a choice over what happens to you in there. Catherine finds herself pregnant, and rather than being protected by those she loves, her parents and even the baby’s father turn their back on her. The nuns plan to take her child away from her, but Catherine is determined not to let that happen. The problem is, despite our own beliefs these days that it’s a mother’s choice, back then (and it really wasn’t that long ago) they had no choice at all.
So many children were ‘lost’ into a system that even their own mothers fought against. Catherine fought. She was determined not to have her baby sold or adopted. She wanted her child. But life wasn’t that easy back then.
Despite praying, to all the saints she can think of, for one small miracle to help her keep her baby, life in Catholic Ireland in the ’70s was never going to make that easy.
Catherine’s story really affected me. I was raised Catholic myself, and the sins of the Catholic Church are never far from my mind, but to read such raw emotions surrounding the pain and abuse done ‘in the name of religion’ makes me so incredibly sad. I won’t deny that I shed a few tears.
This story gets under your skin, mostly because we know these stories are real. It’s no secret that so many girls/young women found themselves in similar situations. We hear stories all the time from those who spent a lifetime searching for their ‘lost children’.
Yes – this is a dual timelines novel, but the ‘past’ doesn’t feel that long ago. The 70’s really wasn’t that long ago and the pain on the pages of this timeline still stings, it still feels real and raw.
In 2010, we meet Caroline, Ronnie, Janet, and Nancy. Each struggling with their own battles. IVF, sperm donor issues and Molar pregnancies see these women struggle to get the one thing they really want. Then there’s Ronnie, the American who could raise a smile one moment and raise heckles the next. Different women, with different stories and personalities thrown together in a support group that facilitates an important friendship and support system for each of them.
When you are dealing with a dual timeline, and then multiple characters and relationships all in one book, you run the risk of not truly connecting with all the characters on the page, but Anna McPartlin works so well with her cleverly crafted (and often humorous) dialogue that you turn the pages knowing every character equally, invested in each of their lives in different ways.
The truth is, each of these women is praying for a miracle. Each of these women hope that someone or something will fix their world for them and give them the one thing they truly want, but will any of them receive a miracle from above or will they find it within themselves?
Anna’s books are always expertly written, highly emotional, and thought-provoking. Her latest has lived up to all of the above and more.
Waiting for the Miracle is delicate in its approach. Considered. Raw and real but gentle.
Like a hug from a best friend after a heartbreaking ordeal. It is everything I expected and so much more.
I urge you to read this book. Have a box of tissues nearby, but devour it and then pass it on. It’s a book that deserves to be read.
Photo credit: Paul Sherwood
Anna McPartlin is a novelist and scriptwriter from Dublin, who has written for TV serial dramas featured on BBC UK, RTE Ireland and A&E America. She has been writing adult fiction for over ten years, and also writes for children under the name Bannie McPartlin. She lives with her husband Donal and their four dogs.
To learn more about Waiting for the Miracle follow Anna on Twitter at: @annamcpartlin & Instagram: @mcpartlin.anna
Many Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers and Zaffre Books for inviting us on this Blog Tour.
Waiting for the Miracle is published by: Zaffre Books