Book reviews


Shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker prize, Damon Galgut’s latest novel is about loneliness and a search for self – emotions the author knows only too well…

Small Circle of Beings (1988) written when he was 24, consists of a superb novella, the title work, and four other stories. The novella is a mother’s heartbreaking account of her child’s illness; the boy is expected to die. She refers to the drugs “wrapping his mind in bandages I cannot penetrate”. During the agonising hospital ordeal, the father announces he is leaving to be with another woman. The narrator tends her son and eventually begins a dangerous relationship with a violent artist. The son recovers yet drifts further and further away from his mother.

Galgut understands these agonies. Diagnosed with lymphatic cancer at six, he lived under a death sentence for five years. “I learned all about mortality too early in life.” (Times) >>>

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Adam Thorpe’s review in the Guardian doesn’t rate Faulk’s Human Traces as a novel (“Having weathered long exegeses and improbable dialogues on mind and madness, the impatient reader is fully prepared for the real fictional matter to begin.”), but it does sound like it has some powerful passages on clinics, doctors of the mind, and patients.

Lionel Shriver describes her last novel, So Much for That: is told from two male points of view. Its subject matter – illness, mortality, and the fiscal depredations of American healthcare

[From the Sunday Independent >>>] Risteard Mulcahy, the internationally renowned cardiologist and health campaigner, has candidly spoken of the breakdown of his marriage, which saw him eventually walk out on his wife and six children.

In his recently published book, Memoirs of a Medical Maverick, Mulcahy, 88, son of General Richard Mulcahy, a former leader of Fine Gael, also writes of how he at one time became involved with a woman who herself ended the relationship when she fell in love with an athlete — another woman.

It was a reminder that many, if not all, people were by nature bisexual, but this was so often concealed by the culture we live in. Mulcahy relates his own curiosity about the prospect of homosexual love, of which he had no experience, nor did he ever have a wish to seek such an opportunity. (Indo) >>>

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McWilliam is often at her best when writing about people she doesn’t know well (the self-involvement, and thus self-abasement, is here non-existent): the shaman who treats her, the women with whom she shares hospital rooms. Her description of bodily sensations – a grand-mal seizure, a broken leg, the packing of seaweed in a putrid wound – are impressive.  (Times) >>>

In this review, A Wynn Thomas writes:

“We may no longer all believe in God, but by God, we all believe in the NHS, with the desperate fervour of anxiety otherwise invested in religion. Hospitals are the great sacred sites of our secular world, dedicated to the cult of health, requiring votive offerings to the gods of disease, staffed by a revered priesthood of doctors and consultants, supplying ministering angels in the form of nurses. As Lewis brilliantly shows, no other places in the modern world are more unnervingly revealing of the bewildering blend in our natures of the rational and irrational, the sophisticated and the primal.”

Read the rest here >>>

By Mark Lawson in the Guardian here >>>

Published in the week that President Obama’s attempt to reform American medical coverage reached its legislative climax, So Much for That spine-tinglingly dramatises the reality of falling sick in the US…. In its demonstration of the human consequences of public policy, Shriver’s novel does for medicine whatThe Jungle by Upton Sinclair did for the Chicago meat industry.

The book, though, is as much psychological as political, inspecting its characters’ attitudes to illness and death. The previously selfish Shep, for example, behaves towards Glynis in a way he considers saintly, but she rebukes him for becoming “just another service provider”. Throughout, illness convincingly mutates the behaviour of both patients and carers.

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