Rarely have I wanted to like a book as much as I wanted to like The Midwife’s Song. I enjoy Biblical fiction anyway — since I write it myself — and for a long time Brenda Ray’s novel has been Amazon.com’s “Better Together” selection to go along with my own Esther: A Story of Courage. There are some good reviews on Amazon for it, so I looked forward to finally reading it. While I wasn’t crushed with disappointment or anything, the novel was nowhere near as good as I expected it to be.
It’s a great concept. Ray picks up on the Bible’s fleeting reference to the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who lurk in the background of the Baby-Moses-in-the-bulrushes story (Exodus 1:15-21), and gives Puah, her main character, a story of her own. As Ray herself worked as a nurse-midwife, I expected midwifery to be front and centre in this novel. Although the author had clearly done her research, I would have liked to see a lot more of it — to learn surprising things that would make me think, “I didn’t know a midwife in ancient Egypt would have done that!” There wasn’t enough, for me, of that sense of discovery of an unknown world.
That same criticism could be applied to the book as a whole. The characters’ outlook and motives often seemed anachronistically modern to me: I never felt convinced that I was being drawn into the world of Hebrew slaves in Egypt, nor was there much detail to help the reader grasp the reality of what a life in slavery would have meant at that time. Instead, there’s far too much (for my money) of romance-novel-convention in the romance between Puah and the goldsmith Hattush — seemingly endless descriptions of how handsome Hattush is and how Puah’s heart races whenever he’s around, etc etc. I guess I prefer my romance with more subtlety.
That said, Brenda Ray has brought to life a Biblical character that, as far as I know, no-one’s written about before, and I think many Christian and Jewish women will enjoy this novel from that perspective without being as critical as I’m being. Ray does make one very gutsy narrative move towards the end of the novel that managed to surprise me, and I’m always pleased when an author can do that. This is a nice piece of Biblical fiction, but I personally would have preferred a little more meat with my manna.