Book review: Wedding Bells for Nurse Connie byÂ Jean Fullerton
It's nearly 70 years since the NHS was born'¦ but what was it like to be a nurse on the frontline of such a pioneering institution?
Former nursing sister and tutor Jean Fullerton spent most of her working life in the East End of London but now she has turned her skills to novel writing and her enchanting and authentic dramas set in the post-war years have become must-reads for saga fans.
Wedding Bells for Nurse Connie, an enthralling account of life and love in a busy nursing practice in London, is the follow-up to Fetch Nurse Connie and opens a fascinating window on to the early days of the NHS and those whose job it was to make the new health system work.
Using her own experiences, and research from a vast collection of nursing, midwifery and medical text books, Fullerton blends romantic drama with an atmospheric and viscerally real social history of everyday nursing in some of London’s most deprived areas.
It’s July 5th 1948 and a big day for the staff of the Spitalfields and Shoreditch Nursing Association. While some local mothers celebrate the birth of their babies, Sister Connie Byrne and her medical colleagues are marking the first day of the much talked-about National Health Service.
Despite the uncertainties of what this will mean for them, the East End nurses are making the most of life in post-war London. For Connie in particular, things are looking rosy as she looks forward to planning a future with her sweetheart, Malcolm Henstock, who works for the council’s roads and highways department.
But, as many a young bride-to-be knows, the course of true love never did run smooth and Connie finds herself grappling with his caustic, interfering mother and Malcolm’s continuing reluctance to actually set the date.
While there are still many obstacles to overcome before walking down the aisle, Connie tries to get on with her busy life and convince herself that she will soon be married to the man of her dreams.
Life at work isn’t all plain sailing either. The NHS is keeping all the staff extremely busy and as ever in the life of a nurse, heartbreak lurks at every turn. But there are some new faces, including Anglo-Indian GP Dr Hari MacLaughlan, to keep things interesting. The handsome doctor could spell trouble ahead for Connie…
This is a beautifully written and gritty tale which whisks us away to a very different age, a time of hardship and deprivation but also one of hope and new beginnings after six years of war and uncertainty.
Fullerton fills her story with heartwarming romance, a cast of vibrant and believable characters, the kind of small and authentic detail that brings the past to life, and the joys and tragedies of the many patients who depend on Connie and her friends for their health care.
A bright, lively and entertaining saga, ideal for fans of Call the Midwife…
(Orion, paperback, £7.99)