Direct Red by Gabriel Weston

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Direct Red by Gabriel Weston

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Part memoir and part insight into what it takes to become a surgeon. Beautifully, compellingly written and highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099520696

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Few people have the ability to convey the minutiae of their profession in ways which engage the reader, answer your unspoken questions and talk in such a way that you're neither patronised nor overburdened with jargon. Gabriel Weston is one such – and Direct Red held me as though I was hypnotised for several hours. She's a surgeon and we're pulled into the intricacies of her world without the need to don mask and gown.

This isn't a book for aspiring doctors or those already in the profession (although they would undoubtedly enjoy reading it) – it's a book for anyone who is remotely interested in medicine, or who might have needed, or one day need, the attention of a surgeon. It's a step past that moment when you're asked to count backwards from a hundred to see what happens behind the swing doors.

It's not just about what it feels like to cut into a body or what it's like to be powerless whilst someone dies because of the incompetence of your superiors. It's about the relationships which develop between doctors and patients – the ones that the wise walk away from and the ones that point out where your own personal relationships and life choices are in need of tweaking.

Gabriel Weston originally studied English before going on to medical school and this is reflected in her beautiful, spare prose. She has the ability to speak volumes in just a few elegantly chosen words, whilst pushing your thinking into corners it's never visited before. There's not a superfluous word in the book, or a page which doesn't make you think. My only regrets about the book are that it's far too short and I could have read as much again and still wanted more.

You're sometimes going to be uncomfortable reading the book. It's unflinchingly honest – frequently about herself and occasionally about the way that patients are treated and about ambition in the medical profession, about what it takes to get to the top. The book is wise, but not preachy and sympathetic to those who find themselves on one end or other of a scalpel. Above all it's compellingly readable.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

In Direct Red names have been changed to protect the innocent and the events which are described are similar to those which have or might occur, but it is essentially a work of non-fiction. For a fictional look at the life of a surgeon we can recommend Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese. We've also enjoyed a recent book about the development of pharmacology – Taking the Medicine by Druin Burch.

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