In March, we introduced a new service: the Reading Doctor. Read more about Dr Louise here. And do feel free to request further prescriptions, as needed!
Prescription #8: something for the caring professions
Can you recommend some books that feature doctors and other caring professionals in a starring role?
Doctor Ashley Bloomfield isn’t the first with the title to inspire admiration, awe or a cult-like following, for better or worse, and loom large in the popular imagination: think of Doctor Livingstone, Doctor Faustus, Doctor Ropata, Doctor Spock and Doctor Watson.
Those in the caring professions meet us when we are ill, weak, dependent and vulnerable. The relationships they form with their patients are intense, urgent, heightened, and often one-sided. It’s a relationship characterised by an imbalance of power, a scenario rich with narrative possibilities, of which these are a few fictional examples:
Doctor Henry Higgins, in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, is an arrogant and high-handed character who transforms the life of Eliza Doolittle, with little kindness or concern for her own desires.
Mary Shelley’s novel about Doctor Victor Frankenstein tells of a young man whose scientific skill exceeds his humanity: the common misidentification of the doctor with the monster he creates is telling.
A family-planning doctor doing good works in Africa is the subject of Lionel Shriver’s grimly comic novel Game Control, in which lofty intellectualism turns good intentions into bad ideas.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is an extended metaphor of the human capacity for both good and evil.
Simon Atwood is the psychiatrist who researches the case of convicted murderer Grace Marks in Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood, with increasingly complicated personal involvement.
An apothecary and unofficial doctor is persuaded to lead an embassy from Cairo to Ethiopia during the reign of Louis XIV, in Jean-Christophe Rufin’s novel The Abyssinian.
Dr Zhivago is a physician and poet in the novel by Boris Pasternak, set between the Russian Revolution and WWII, which was refused publication by Soviet censors and subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize.
In an Irish village in the 19th century, Nance Roach is versed in the herbal remedies and rituals which ward off fairies, in Hannah Kent’s The Good People.
Doctor Juvenal Urbino is the rational – and flawed -- man of science who is one part of the love triangle in Love in the Time of Cholera, by award-winning author Gabriel Garcia Márquez.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s disturbing book Never Let Me Go portrays a society in which medical personnel are the instruments of an extreme capitalist system and living organs are commodified: Neal Schusterman’s Unwind series is a variation on the theme for YA readers.
Set in a mental asylum in the aftermath WWII, The Listener by Shira Nayman unfolds the story one patient reveals to his doctor.
A Canadian nurse cares for The English Patient during the North African Campaign of WWII, in the book for which Michael Ondaatje won the Booker Prize in 1992.