Showing 31 - 40 of 577 annotations in the genre "Novel"

The Heart

de Kerangal, Maylis

Last Updated: Apr-25-2016

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story of The Heart is a simple, linear structure.  A car accident renders a young Frenchman, Simon, brain-dead. A medical team proposes harvesting organs, and his parents, after some turmoil, agree. That’s the first half of the book, the provenance of this specific heart. The second half describes its delivery for transplantation. Administrators find recipients, one of them a woman in Paris. Simon’s heart is transported there by plane and sewn into her chest. All this in 24 hours.  
            
The narration is complex, with flashbacks, overlapping times, and literary art that is compelling. There are 28 sections to the story but without numbers or chapter headings, and these are often broken up into half a dozen shorter sections. We have an impression of stroboscopic flashes on the action, with high intensity focus. These create a mosaic that we assemble into dramatic pictures. Even major characters arrive without names, and we soon figure them out.  
 

Simon.  He’s called the donor, although he had no choice in the matter. At 19 years of age he’s trying to find a path in life.  A Maori tattoo is a symbol for that search. He has a girlfriend, Juliette. He fades away as a character (except in others’ memories) and his heart takes center stage.  

Marianne and Sean, Simon’s parents.  Her emotions, as we would expect, range widely, especially during discussion of whether Simon’s organs can be transplanted. Father Sean has a Polynesian origin and cultural heritage.


Pierre Révol, Thomas Rémige, and Cordélia Owl are respectively the ICU physician, nurse, and the transplant coordinator. These are vividly drawn, with unusual qualities. Skilled professionals, they are the team the supplies the heart.  

Marthe Carrare, Claire Méjan, and Virgilio Breva are a national administrator, the recipient, and a surgeon. Described in memorable language, they are the receiving team.              

The characters’ names give hints of de Kerangal’s range. S
ince the 1789 Revolution Marianne has been a well-known French national symbol for common people and democracy, but Virgilio Breva is from Italy and Cordélia (recalling King Lear) Owl (as in wise?) has a grandmother from Bristol, England. We learn of personal habits regarding tobacco, peyote, sex, and singing. Medicine is part of a larger world of people of many sorts.              

Even minor characters, such as Simon’s girlfriend Juliette and other medical personnel are touching and memorable.
             

These characters animate the story with their passion, mystery, even heroism. While we don’t know the final outcome of the implanted heart, the text shows the professionalism of the medical team, the French national system that evidently works, sensitive care of patients and families, and in the last pages, rituals of affirmation for medical art and for patients.
             

There is richness in de Kerangal’s style. At times it is direct, reflecting the thoughts of characters. At times it is ornate, even baroque. She uses many images and metaphors, often with large, epic qualities. A very long sentence about the over-wrought parents describes them as “alone in the world, and exhaustion breaks over them like a tidal wave” (p. 141).  The style uses many similes, often with dramatic and unexpected comparisons. There are references to geology, astronomy, even American TV hospital drama. The style is at times lyric…we might say “operatic.”  One page about Cordélia is very, very funny.
        
  
In a different tone, the details of medicine, law, and ethics are carefully presented, and visual imagery puts us in the hospital rooms, the OR, and crowded streets around a soccer game. Throughout it appears that translator Sam Taylor has done an admirable job. 
             

The text invites us to consider large visions of wholeness. All the major characters seek some comprehensive unity to their lives, and they avoid orthodoxies such as religion, patriotism, and economic gain. Sean has his Polynesian heritage and boat-building passion, which he has shared with Simon. Cordélia, at 25, is an excellent nurse, wise beyond her years in some ways, but is as dazzled by a man as any teenaged girl. Nurse Rémige has his master’s in philosophy, loves the song of rare birds, and is, himself, a serious singer.  

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The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

Mosley, Walter

Last Updated: Mar-07-2016
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Walter Mosley writes in various genres but is probably best known for his mysteries. His 2010 novel, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, could be considered another one of his mysteries, but the mystery plot takes a secondary role. Featured more prominently is the struggle the main character, Ptolemy Grey, has with dementia.   

The reader first encounters Ptolemy Grey when he is 91 years old and living alone in an apartment he has inhabited in South Central LA for more than 60 years. Both he and the apartment are in appalling shape. The apartment is cluttered, disorganized, and dysfunctional—as is his aging brain. He knows his mind is failing and seems to him as if it “had fallen in on itself like an old barn left unmended and untended through too many seasons.” (p.153)

Throughout the novel, Mosley presents aspects of dementia and some of its oddities. For example, while Ptolemy is riding on a bus through his town, certain sights trigger clear memories from his childhood 80 years before. At the same time he is unsure where he is going or why. Mosley also shows how people can possibly realize they are slipping into dementia, for example, when Ptolemy stops talking to a friend once “he could see in her eyes he wasn’t making sense.” (p. 122)

Ptolemy’s great-grandnephew Reggie provides him with the assistance he needs to barely maintain his lonely existence in squalid conditions. When Reggie dies, a new person comes into his life. Robyn, a 17-year-old orphan living with Ptolemy’s grandniece, begins to straighten out his apartment and then his mind.    

As Robyn gets Ptolemy’s apartment more organized and functional, Ptolemy’s mind starts to get more organized and functional as well, but only a bit more. Unsatisfied with his progress, Robyn takes Ptolemy to a physician who has an experimental drug for dementia. Ptolemy is told that if he takes the drug he will regain his mental acuity but probably not live more than a few weeks, or months, at best. Without hesitation he takes the drug—“I wanna make it so I could think good for just a couple a mont’s, Doc” (p. 126)—and rapidly regains many memories and mental capacities. During the time he has with his newfound mental agility, Ptolemy is able to make good on a commitment from his childhood and to solve the mystery of Reggie’s death. While the experimental drug enables Ptolemy to wrap up his business, it also produces a rather violent end to his life.

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Side Effects May Vary

Murphy, Julie

Last Updated: Jan-07-2016
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

At 16, Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, and is given a dire prognosis.  Assuming she has months to live, she undergoes chemotherapy with the support of her lifelong friend, Harvey, whose frank and deepening love she is uncertain about returning.  On days when she has enough energy and the nausea abates, she works on a "bucket list" with Harvey's sometimes reluctant help, since the list includes revenge on two classmates who have hurt and humiliated her.  When, months into treatment, she goes into unexpected full remission, Alice has to come to terms with the consequences of some of her revenge strategies and reassess the depth of a relationship with Harvey that may last far longer than she thought she had.  Given an opportunity to choose life on new terms, she considers those new terms in a more adult way, chastened, focused, and grateful for a chance to make new choices.

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The Physician

Gordon, Noah

Last Updated: Nov-17-2015
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

When nine-year-old Rob Cole, child of poor 11th-century English farmers, loses his mother, he is consigned to the care of a barber-surgeon who takes him around the countryside, teaching him to juggle, sell potions of questionable value, and assist him in basic medical care that ranges from good practical first-aid to useless ritual.  When, eight years later, his mentor dies, Rob takes the wagon, horse, and trappings and embarks on a life-changing journey across Europe to learn real medicine from Avicenna in Persia.  Through a Jewish physician practicing in England, he has learned that Avicenna’s school is the only place to learn real medicine and develop the gift he has come to recognize in himself.  In addition to skill, he discovers in encounters with patients that he has sharp and accurate intuitions about their conditions, but little learning to enable him to heal them.  The journey with a caravan of Jewish merchants involves many trials, including arduous efforts to learn Persian and pass himself off as a Jew, since Christians are treated with hostility in the Muslim lands he is about to enter.  Refused at first at Avicenna’s school, he finally receives help from the Shah and becomes a star student.  His medical education culminates in travel as far as India, and illegal ventures into the body as he dissects the dead under cover of darkness.  Ultimately he marries the daughter of a Scottish merchant he had met but parted with in his outgoing journey, and, fleeing the dangers of war, returns with her and their two sons to the British Isles, where he sets up practice in Scotland.

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Best Boy

Gottlieb, Eli

Last Updated: Nov-09-2015

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Best Boy is a novel about Todd Aaron, a 54-year-old autistic man who has lived for 40 years in a Payton LivingCenter (sic); he was involuntarily committed to this facility. Todd has been in five previous places for congregate living, but Payton seems to be the best for him, thanks in part to a loving caregiver, Raykene. Todd has accepted the institutional “Law” of Payton and takes his drugs right on schedule, including Risperdal, an antipsychotic that slows him down, making a “roof” over him and muffling, he says, “the voice in my brain.”  The story is told from Todd’s point of view, often with startling imagery:  he pictures his dead parents turning into giant cigars, a raindrop “explodes,” and, when upset, he rocks back and forth and feels “volts.”  Now and then he recalls that his mother called him her “best boy.”
   
Into this stable setting come three personified disruptions. The first two are fellow patients, Terry Doon (a pun on “doom”?), a brain-injured roommate who teases, torments, and bullies Todd, and Martine Calhoun. While Terry disrupts Todd’s living space, Martine is a siren who lures him to different parts of Payton’s campus; she is also a rebel who urges him to stop taking Risperdal and shows him how to hide the drug in his hand and get rid of it later.   

The third is Mike Hinton, a day staffer who lies, manipulates, and in general mistreats Todd. Todd understands Hinton as evil and entertains violence against him—but does not act. Hinton has sex with a female patient who dies, apparently a suicide, although the language of Payton’s staff, as reported by Todd, euphemistically hides the truth.

Todd has the “Idea” of escape and sets out, on foot, to go 744 miles to “home.” A state policeman soon returns him to Payton.

Now and then Todd’s younger brother Nate calls, often while drinking. Near the end of the book, Nate and his wife Beth take Todd to his childhood home, where he had been abused physically and mentally. In a moving scene, Todd enters the only unchanged area, a crawl space and feels the return he yearned for.            

All three tormentors leave Payton, and there is a surprising resolution for Todd.  The balance and harmony of Payton’s LivingCenter are restored, and Todd, reminded by Raykene, affirms that “Somebody always loved me.” 

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Will Starling

Weir, Ian

Last Updated: Oct-16-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1816 London, Napoleon has been defeated and troops have returned, including teenaged Will Starling, who survived the wars as assistant to the decent surgeon Alec Comrie. Will now serves Comrie in the city, still in strained circumstances.

Medical science has turned to the utility of anatomy, but material for research and teaching is scarce. Body-snatchers procure subjects from robbing graves—sometimes from murder—but they are not the only bad actors. Flamboyant, privileged Doctor Dionysius Atherton is trying to raise the dead by applying newly harnessed electricity to fresh cadavers.

From this ghoulish world of science and crime, young Will Starling tells his own tale, as your “Wery Umble Narrator.” Vivid scenes of wretched urban poverty, wanton cruelty, and selfless heroism march past to a grim ending.  

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Tender Mercies

Brown, Rosellen

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This remarkable, absorbing novel is the story of a marriage and of catastrophe. Dan and Laura are a young couple from very different backgrounds who have two children. There is a terrible boating accident, caused by Dan's cavalier carelessness: Laura is severely injured and is rendered quadriplegic. The narrative skillfully weaves back and forth between Dan and Laura's earlier life, the nature of their relationship, and the present shocking realities of daily living; on-going unresolved guilt, anger, withdrawal and despair; and a gradual reconfiguration of the love and attraction that initially brought the pair together.The author pays unflinching attention to the details of physical incapacitation and how they must be dealt with, and the consequences for Dan as husband-caregiver as well as for Laura. At the same time we hear Laura's dream-like, poetic inner thoughts--a mind trapped in a useless body-- yet she seems to use her mind both as sense organ and limbs. "If Dan . . . ever touched me above my breasts where I edge towards feeling like ice thinning out . . . I would feel it everywhere. Memory is a muscle too if you work it."

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The Burying Ground

Kellough, Janet

Last Updated: Sep-21-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Luke Lewis is the son of an itinerant preacher in Upper Canada and a recent medical graduate of Montreal’s McGill University. In 1851, he joins the practice of the aging, Edinburgh-trained Dr. Stewart Christie in Thornhill, Ontario. It is a small village a few miles north of Toronto (now the site of some of the most expensive property in Canada).  Christie is tired and leaves Luke alone to work.   

Luke hopes to consolidate his learning and earn enough to set up on his own elsewhere in Ontario, closer to his farming brothers. He rents a couple of rooms from the doctor and is able to accommodate his father Thaddeus Lewis on his occasional visits.   

Morgan Spicer, the custodian of the local Strangers’ Burying Ground, is an old friend of the family. He finds a grave disturbed, which raises the specter of grave-robbing, an all too common crime much abetted by medical schools. But in this case, the corpse is left behind and the grave was not fresh. Morgan is baffled but the police are indifferent. When it happens a second time, Luke and his father try to help solve the mystery. They wonder if Dr. Christie might be behind it. What does he do all day?   

Luke is lonely and he sorely misses his friend and lover, Ben, who died of tuberculosis back in Montreal. Luke has managed to keep his sexual orientation firmly in the closet, knowing it would be the end of his career and of his relationship with his beloved father.   

However, Luke’s gallant actions in rescuing the beautiful African, Cherub, from American slave-traders, result in an unwanted invitation from a somewhat too grateful society lady, Lavinia. Through her, he meets the clever Perry Biddulph and is plunged into a torment of attraction and despair, compounded by the fact that Lavinia’s husband is a scoundrel whom the Lewis’s have met before in the previous novel.   

Luke firmly resolves to avoid both Lavinia and Perry, but she uses his sexual secret to blackmail him into finding the means to leave her husband. Most problems are nicely resolved in the end. To say more would spoil it.  

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A Dublin Student Doctor

Taylor, Patrick

Last Updated: Aug-14-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1965, Dr Fingal Flaherty O’Reilly is traveling in his car with nurse Kitty when they come across a road accident and stop to help. The incident leads to reminiscing about his final years of medical training in Dublin hospitals in the 1930s.

Fingal has just returned from a stint in the navy. His student cohort includes a steady chum, a respected, brilliant woman, and a narcissistic pest–-all rather familiar tropes, comfortably portrayed. A picture of a hospital-based education emerges through teachers both kindly and rigid, a crusty head nurse who turns out to be a good soul, and a lovely student nurse, Kitty. Fingal’s professorial father disapproves of his son’s choice of a medical career and on his infrequent visits home, their relationship is tense.

Attractive to medical student readers are the clinical stories, the diagnostic dilemmas, and the stress of examinations. Social factors, such as poverty, unemployment, and discrimination, are intimately connected to the health of Fingal’s patients both as causes and results. His concern for his patients and those aspects of their lives earn him the respect of the head nurse and her student
.   

This story set in two time periods is partly a prequel to some of Taylor’s other tales, such as An Irish Country Doctor.

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Doctor Death

Kaaberbøl, Lene

Last Updated: Aug-07-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1894 France, Madeleine Karno hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps as a pathologist. She is passionate about medicine and especially about science and how it can help the dead 'speak.' When a young girl is found lifeless outside her own home, the autopsy can find no evidence of murder; however, the discovery of tiny mites in her nostrils leads Madeleine and her father on a lengthy investigation involving the girl’s family, a priest, abused children, and a convent school that has a three-hundred year tradition of keeping wolves.

By the end, the story is littered with corpses, each needing careful pathological inspection. Madeleine is chillingly threatened, but she lives and justice prevails.  

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