Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on October 15, 2019
I'm just not sure what to think about this book.

On the one hand, it may have been an accurate snapshot of Northern Ireland and rural medicine in the 1950s. (Who alive can remember it taking one week for a thyroid test to come back? Who can remember a time when Great Britain used Shillings, farthing, and crowns as currency units? Or the times when doctors made house calls?)

On the other hand, I wonder if it was something of an "adaptation." (The author actually lives in British Columbia, where he has lived since 1970. The book was published 37 years after he left Northern Ireland.)

A look at his biography shows that he would have been 29 years old when he left Ireland and moved to Canada.

And that is the danger that one runs with books that are about times and places that are so far away-- in some cases these books have no basis in reality, and depict an idealized society that someone wanted it to be--or an irredeemably spoiled one that someone wanted to castigate

One thing that makes me extremely suspicious is on page 201, where they refer to a bunch of "eejits in pointed hoods" who were meant to remind the blacks that "they are second-class citizens."

2 problems with this are:

1. How would people in an Irish Countryside even know anything about black people in the United States?

2. Irish people were and are notorious for despising black people. Both in Ireland, and in the United States.

If they knew that they were some other people who hated black people, whose side would they likely have been on?

The sanctimonious tone of the protagonist seems a bit..... unlikely.

There is a very rich vocabulary (including lots of Ulster-Irish dialect) that is straddling the fine line between being expository and being annoying (i.e.--consulting a dictionary every other page).

1. Beagles gowl
2. Sou'wester
3. Chivvy
4. Spavined
5. Kismet
6. Slainte mHath
7. Bashtoon
8. Ecce galvinus. Homo plumbum oscillandat.
9. Caubeen
10. Hackle
11. Laird
12. Ormolu
13. Blarney
14. Rhinophyma
15. Almoner
16. Caper
17. Gobshite
18. Dottle
19. Antimacassar
20. Hooley
21. Liltie
22. Fey
23. Barmbrack
24. Druishin
25. Crubins
26. Perambulator
27. Mooncalf
28. Felipe
29. Basilisk

(There is, in fact, an excellent glossary at the end of the book--as well as several recipes, one of which I have already successfully tried.)

I have questions about for whom the book was written, and the plausibility of the characters. (Elderly white ladies? Irish history dilettantes? Expatriate Irish?)

1. Men in real life don't behave in the soppy way that the junior doctor does with respect to relationships with women. They also don't notice things like "somebody putting red seems down the outside legs of sky blue trousers." (p.214)

2. Has anybody ever heard of somebody that lived in a car for 20 years because they refuse to get their roof fixed?

There are some pretty decent philosophical questions that are asked within the narrative presented within this fiction.

1. How much of illness/ treatment is psychosomatic? How do doctors deal with hypochondriacs?

2. Where does the doctor draw the line as to how useful he can be in a particular case?

3. How does a doctor rationalize it to himself when the inevitable mistakes occur?

Verdict: recommended at the price of a couple of dollars. This is about three afternoons worth of reading time, and it's a not unpleasant respite from more difficult books.
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