Where the Light Enters is a nice and hefty historical fiction novel to lose yourself in. Dr Sophie Savard and Dr Anna Savard are both such compelling heroines, and I love reading about women doctors in historical fiction. I love all the historical bits (many are unfortunately still true today) about sexism in the medical world, stigma around abortion and contraception, and men basically exerting control over women’s bodies. I also loved all the stuff about medical history, and the kind of things doctors could figure out with the resources they had back then.
There wasn’t as much focus on the mystery of the murdered women as I’d expected (and to be honest, wanted), but I like that the mystery prompted conversations on reproductive rights, and all the holier-than-thou censure around giving women the right to self-autonomy over their own bodies. I especially like that the murderer’s identity and motivations turned out to be much more complex than I’d initially assumed. The backstory behind the murders was rooted in an experience of violence, such that while all the characters agreed that the murderer’s actions were wrong, they disagreed about how justice should be served. I like that Sophie and Anna themselves were on opposite sides of the debate, as with both heroines in disagreement about how to deal with the murderer, the author seems to be inviting the reader to continue reflecting on the complexity of the situation rather than to pick a side ourselves.
The book did drag a bit, ironically near the end where the story returns to the murder mystery. I think it’s because so much has happened apart from the mystery — about the hospital and the medical students, and about Sophie’s new home and the school she wants to set up for Black aspiring women doctors — that I had to remind myself of the characters involved in the mystery subplot. The beginning, with the letters about the custody battle over the orphans, also felt a bit slow, but it was a nice intro to the characters, and from Goodreads, I see it’s a throwback to the plot from an earlier novel, which is nice.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.