Thursday, December 28, 2006
Bodies is a visceral, gripping book. It is written in a vein similar to Bedside Stories, but without the humour and return to reality between each instalment – we chart the journey of a Houseman from his first day on the ward, and through his junior years.
Ultimately, this book is the tale of the dark side of doctoring: the cock-ups, covers ups, guilt and strain. It is virtually an anonymous account – we never learn the central character’s name, and mostly the other doctors are anonymised; patients are nicknamed. This does give a disturbing edge of reality – how much of it is, or was, real?
Bodies deals with conscience, the hidden curriculum and red tape, and the insider concept of whistle-blowing – exposing another as negligent, and exposing yourself in so doing.
Mercurio writes extremely well – the book is compelling – and despite its gritty negativity, the tangible sensations described mean this book stands alone from its TV serialisation counterpart.
One wonders, having read the book, about Mercurio’s audience – my medical background meant I didn’t have such a need the glossary (that I discovered upon turning the last page), but even this doesn’t fill the void. I came away from Bodies feeling strongly that Mercurio has a message, a clear and pointed message, targeted at those to whom he can make a difference.
‘Bodies’ refers not only to corpses and death, but also human bodies, alive, anatomical beings. It is almost as if one makes the transition from human body to corpse if one were a Houseman in the book – and the the bodily fluids, secretions and disturbances are encountered along the way.
The catalogue of errors that make up the book serve as a warning and a red flag to future medics; they also go some way to provide an explanation to why things do go wrong, and what results if these errors go unheeded.
We achieve resolution in the book, but not necessarily in the way anticipated or desired. Flashes of humanity come and go in the characters, but as readers we maintain our own throughout.