Dr. Henry Marsh was a Political Studies student before wagging college for a year. Eventually, he ended up studying medicine and becoming a celebrated neurosurgeon. This novel is a memoir of his experiences in remote hospitals in places such as Nepal and Pakistan, where he offers his services as surgeon and teacher to those in need.
I honestly expected more juicy stories and less reflection, but perhaps that was a hallmark of this being his second novel – perhaps they were all exhausted by his first novel, ‘Do No Harm’. For me then, there was too much memoir and reflection on aging rather than substance about the joys and upsets of being a neuroscientist. I can accept a certain level of introspection, but I’m not certain what regular readers would pull from this novel.
Although I enjoyed the scientific discussion because I’m a scientist and know something about the brain’s morphology, it would have been very useful to have diagrams of what the incisions and brain areas looked like. Nothing too gastly, I’m certain it would be difficult to get permissions to print images of patients, but just dry diagrams could have been useful.
The brief discussions about how Henry could apply his knowledge to neuroscience about how personality probably does [not] exist after death could not save the novel for me. Neither could the discussions on his renovation project in his retirement. Additionally, I wasn’t actually sure what family he had left, which made me wonder at his sanity! Also, he is obsessed with getting dementia which derails a lot of the chapters.
If you are looking for more ways of living mindfully, shaped by what others dying has done so far (The Five Invitations) or are looking for a provocative discussion of the implications of a ‘Good Death’ (The Easy Way Out), this is not the novel for you. It wasn’t really the novel for me, but others might enjoy it. Thankfully it is non-fiction, so I don’t have to assign a star rating to something I didn’t particularly enjoy.
Hachette Australia | 16th May 2017 | AU$32.99 | paperback
The Only Girl in the World
Maude’s mother was chosen when she was six years old to give birth to blonde Maude and train Maude as superior being – at Maude’s father’s request. Maude is forced to endure torture in the basement, sitting in the dark for hours with rats running past her feet, and to spend hours practicing the piano and accordion.
I actually expected this novel to be darker than what it was. Reading the blurb made me think that Maude was inexplicably (physically) tortured in horrific ways. That’s not to say she wasn’t – but it was more psychological torture, which to an extent can be much harder to recover from. This is a success story though, as Maude has gone on to be a ‘doctor of the mind’ and assists other victims of trauma and abuse.
I was right there with Maude from the very beginning, and the prose was written in such a way that it wasn’t dry or stilted. In fact, if you didn’t tell someone it was a memoir, I’m pretty sure they would just think it was some horrific form of fiction. There is a climax of sorts, which fits in with a fiction novel, but the outcomes of the novel were much more real. I don’t think I am expressing myself adequately here, but trust me, it is written flawlessly.
As this is a memoir I’m not giving it any stars. But it is a fantastic memoir that I recommend highly. It’s a unique survivorship novel of what cults can do to children, but how the resilience of children can create positive outcomes.
Text Publishing | 1st May 2017 | AU$32.99 | Paperback
Leonie Howie & Adele Robertson
Leonie and Adele worked as the primary health care providers on remote Great Barrier Island before any of the mod-cons were available such as phones and consistent electricity. Only 100km from the mainland, the government didn’t realise the isolation and trials for the nurses in this wild place and so these stories are how the nurses could negotiate the realities of isolated life.
While the stories were quite entertaining and there was plenty of variety, something about the tone of the novel made it feel slightly awkward to read. Ah yes. Is it in present tense? My literature interpretation is a bit rusty. Anyway, I’m sure it was written in this manner to give a sense of presence and urgency to the life situations, however it just made it awkward for me to read.
What I appreciated was the wide range of situations that were covered in the novel. The other recent nursing novel I read, Aussie Midwives, focussed on the experiences of different midwives, so this had an entirely different content to it. Less internal thoughts, more events!
Something that still carries stigma and is rarely discussed is that many women suffer from miscarriages for no obvious reason. Both Leonie and Adele want to have children, but it will be hell for one of them. While perhaps not a key part of being a remote nurse, it is a fact of life that dealing with births is a regular occurrence, no matter how painful it might be at the time.
This was another memoir I found to be lacking in substance, but it was certainly more enjoyable than Admissions. This had a greater number of anecdotes that energised me and that I couldn’t wait to relate to others. Additionally, I have a nurse in my family who I knew would appreciate the novel so it won’t go to waste!
Allen & Unwin | 26th April 2017 | AU$29.99 | paperback