More shorter reviews of books I read towards the end of 2018…
The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Watson
There are so many books written by hospital doctors these days – of all types. Surgeon’s stories in the operating theatre; junior doctor’s comedic diaries; heart-breaking lives cut short by cancer – they fill shelves on their own. I’m not complaining, I love reading these books, but the doctors only tell one side of the story. Doctors’ memoirs do usually acknowledge the part played by nurses in their own specialisms, but it’s rare to find a book that tells the other side of the story.
Christie Watson was a nurse for twenty years, and in her book she takes us from her early days as a student nurse through her years initially working as a mental health nurse, before moving through other departments to work in children’s intensive care and as a specialist ‘resuscitation officer’ (special crash team nurse).
The book begins with a tracking shot, so to speak. We follow Christie as she walks through the hospital to reach her office describing everything on the route to us – people rushing, waiting, shouting, working, hungry; the noises, the trolleys and wheelchairs, the controlled frenzy of A&E; it’s a hive of activity, and Christie has worked in many parts of it. She goes on to tell us stories of patients she has cared for, from schizophrenic Derek to newborn David, the ninth child of a drug addict mother who will probably have him taken away from her – again, via some desperately ill children who survive against the odds. She shows, time and time again, how nurses’ skills complement those of the doctors, how gentle palliative care can help the terminally ill die with dignity, how just being there and showing compassion, empathy and kindness helps patients and their families too alongside the treatment, whatever the medical outcome.
This is an immensely touching and moving memoir for the most part. I agree with Rebecca’s review that the insertions of some nursing stories from history, mostly involving Florence Nightingale, jar a little, although they do illustrate that nurses have always cared about their patients. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this book on the Wellcome Book Prize longlist when it is announced and would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading medical memoirs. (8/10)
Source: Own copy. Christie Watson, The Language of Kindness (Chatto & Windus, 2018) hardback, 324 pages. BUY the paperback at Amazon UK (affiliate link).
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
This was our Book Group’s choice for a ‘banned books’ December discussion over our Christmas meal! A re-read for me, but a pleasure due to reading it in the Folio Society edition.
The teenaged Alex and his droogs, Pete, Georgie and Dim hang around the Korova Milkbar and terrorise the local neighbourhood, raping and pillaging:
…there was this sweets and cancers shop still open. We’d left them alone near three months now and the whole district had been very quiet on the whole, so the armed millicents or rozz patrols weren’t round there much, being more north of the river these days.
So they’re South of the river eh! A few pages later, comes one of the scenes that made Kubrick’s film of the book so notorious in its portrayal, where they break into a house where a writer and his wife live and they rape the woman in front of the writer – on the page it’s still a shocking scene, especially when you realise how metafictional it is, (it also explains the title – well a bit!). But enough of that.
Alex is the youngest of the group, the de facto leader; he bullies his parents too who’ve given up trying to nurture him, leaving him to listen to Beethoven without distraction. But a challenge to his leadership ends up with him in prison, where he accepts an offer to have his sentence curtailed by undergoing ‘Reclamation Treatment’ – aversion therapy. I’m not going to expound on the plot further, except to remind you that there is an extra chapter at the end that isn’t in the film, which gives some real food for thought.
This was an excellent book group read – love it or hate it – you can’t fail to have an opinion about this novel; youth, free will, nature vs nurture, we discussed these themes and more at our book group. The nasty bits aside, I really enjoyed re-reading the book, it’s ‘real horrorshow’! A Clockwork Orange may have been written in 1962 but it retains a freshness that endures, and the reader soon gets the hang of the slang, whether you have the edition containing the Nadsat glossary or not.
The official restored edition, which contains editor Andrew Biswell’s notes and glossary, was published in 2012. The notes are certainly well worth reading in themselves; Burgess was known for his feuds with other writers, and there are many veiled references to them and other notables of the time in the text which adds to the reading experience! The Folio Society’s edition also has an introduction by Irvine Welsh as well as Ben Jones’ arresting illustrations.
Source: Own copy. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962) Folio, 2014, hardback (illus) 214 pages incl notes etc. BUY at Amazon UK (affiliate link)