“What a bloody, splendid book” (The Observer).
If K had not recommended this book, I probably couldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. Famous in the family for fainting and banging my head on radiators when children have picked their scab wounds, or passing out when they took a routine blood sample in my father-in-law’s clinic in Rome when pregnant with child number one, to everyone’s great amusement, I long ago joined the ranks of the overly squeamish and would definitely have missed this unflinchingly brilliant book as a result.
Be prepared for a spot of blood and gore from the outset : the revelatory first line “I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing” is but a taster of the barrel-load of what’s to come from Chapter 1: “with a pair of diathermy forceps…scalpel…jelly…drilling…venous blood, dark blue and glittering…tectal plate… dangerous… malignant…cerebro-spinal fluid” – you too start to feel the room darken and “as though you are crawling along a long tunnel”. Gird your loins.
Could not put this book down. Takes you through the whole gamut of emotions and is utterly compelling for its searing honesty and unique insider’s view. I read much of it through a mist of tears, and share Ian McEwan and a score of other reviewers’ unadulterated praise for this book as seen on the Amazon page – and couldn’t help but smile at an article in The Telegraph about the wearing of cycle helmets that you might enjoy post read and after feeling you know this man a little better through his writing.
Henry Marsh is vastly experienced, irritable, generous, irascible and controversial. He is not afraid to speak his mind and you wouldn’t like to get the wrong side of him : watch his first interview with Channel 4 when first publishing the book on Youtube, and follow his frustrations with the NHS earlier this year on BBC Newsnight.
It is hard to image him hanging up his surgical attire when he retires for new ventures any time now. But what a job – and what a forthright portrayal of a job well done. To do no harm, or indeed to inflict the least harm possible – these are the daily life-changing decisions of such a complex and challenging profession. Perilous, admirable stuff. And this is a book you don’t want to end.
Read in March 2015.
Rating – 10/10
Sunday Times bestseller, one of The Guardian Top Ten Reads of 2014 and First Book Award Nominee, Shortlisted for the Costa Biography Book Awards, Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2014