I came to this extraordinary piece of writing via an unusual route. The village hall hosted a short dramatic presentation by ‘New Perspectives’ introducing the book using visual aids, a soundtrack and the skills of two actors to explain how the book came into being. Although that drama was flawed, it was also moving, and it piqued my curiosity, so I ordered a copy of the book. I’m glad I did.
I read the work in a hotel room, during a thunder storm, while waiting to attend a family event.
Superficially, this is the story of a real doctor during the early years of the UK’s excellent National Health Service, and his relationships with his rural list of patients. The book is illustrated with atmospheric black and white photographs of the location (the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, England) and of the doctor and his patients. Insightful and honest, these unposed pictures capture the realities.
But this is so much more than the mere story of an honest, compassionate, quick-tempered, passionate and deeply caring man. The author gets under the skin of the times (the tale begins in the 1950s), dissects the social and cultural poverty of the area, and cuts deep into what it is to be human being charged with the medical and psychological care of an isolated rural community.
There is philosophy here, history, an impassioned exploration of the inequalities of society, and a celebration of the life of a unique individual. Moving, entertaining, stimulating and thought-provoking, this is a powerful read from the pen of a gifted and superbly observant writer, augmented by a collection of silent images that capture life as it happens.
Considered a meditation on the role of a doctor, it is still widely read by healthcare practitioners today. And it remains a thoroughly good read.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]