A tedious, stilted and inauthentic novel about an important issue in our medical profession's training system.
Sonia Henry is a medical practitioner and writer, based in Sydney. In Going Under, her first novel, she tells the story of Kitty Halliday, and her intern year at a Sydney teaching hospital. Kitty shares a house with two other interns and a young lawyer. At the hospital she is shocked at the conditions in which she works, particularly the bullying from senior doctors, and she relates her stories and those of her housemates.
This book was clearly meant to be a memoir. It is a first-person account of the (mostly unnecessary) pressure under which young doctors are forged into fully-fledged practitioners. She possibly chose to novelise it in order to keep details more anonymous. The main issue is that it does not read like a novel. There is no real narrative arc to speak of. We are just presented with a series of incidents: sex, death, bullying, the occasional drunken jackanapes. It unfolds like a storyline for several episodes of a medical soap opera.
Henry can’t write dialogue. It is all quite stilted and inauthentic, and every character (other than the obvious “meanies”) sound exactly the same. Clearly, this was a job for a more vigorous editor than the one she was assigned. She also has an obsession with weight. She consistently refers to both men and women in terms of their body shape. Even the lovely doctor who Kitty develops a crush on is partly dismissed as being “overweight”. The worst example was her description of a supposedly sexy female character who is given the disclaimer “even though she is a bit on the chubby side”. Truly bad form, especially from a female writer. Again…where was the editor?
As a holiday read, this is as acceptable as any. It is hard to truly buy into any of the characters, but they are enjoyable enough that a day spent in the sun with them wouldn’t be too arduous.
Henry has some important things to say about the medical profession in Australia and in particular, about the training system. She has written articles about this issue and should continue to do so. But her choice to attempt a novel is a baffling one.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Distributed by:Allen & Unwin
Released: September 2019