Student notes on House of God by Samuel Shem


Samuel Shem’s ‘The House of God’ follows a young doctor’s internship in the eponymous ‘House of God’ hospital. Following the experiences of Dr. Basch and his colleagues, Shem’s writing ranges between insightful and crass. The satirical often veers into the farcical, while Shem’s own brand of ultra-realism can sometimes come across as exaggerated.

With that being said, there are excellent moments in the text. The sincerity of the main character is endearing and though the humour is probably more miss than hit, there are genuinely funny moments. ‘The Fat Man’, the intern’s first resident who believes that there is no patient ‘whose medical characteristics cannot be listed on a three-by-five index card’, is a prime source of humour.

However, Shem’s attempt to make the novel as realistic as possible can appear more like hyperbole. The seemingly never-ending nicknames and acronyms (GOMER, LOL, NAD…) can be tiresome and the idiomatic speech of some characters, a Chicagoan who speaks nothing but hipster and a foreign patient who shouts ‘go avay’, is simply hackneyed. ‘You dig?’

Though these elements detract from the novel, taken with a grain of salt (or more, as prescribed) ‘House of God’ can be read for what it is, a frank though perhaps exaggerated take on an intern’s story, from a man with real-life experience.


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