Books & Literature

Book Review: The Registrar, by Neela Janakiramanan

THRILLER: With the frenetic pace of a psychological thriller, The Registrar offers a rare insight into the world of a surgeon-in-the-making from one who has survived it. Told with compassion, skill and emotional heart, this gripping and moving novel goes behind the headlines to reveal the human experience of being both doctor and patient in a medical system at breaking point.

As the hospital system impacts us all at one time or another, you really need to read this.

Feature image credit: Allen & Unwin

Regardless of whether you work in a hospital or not, you will appreciate the exposé of the hospital system in Neela Janakiramanan’s debut novel The Registrar.

If you picked up the novel because you are in a similar position to the protagonist, you will feel camaraderie; pleased that someone has written a novel detailing the inner workings of a failed hospital system, with its impossibly demanding surgical training programme.

If you are a person that works so hard you have little time for anything else, or a woman in a high-powered position dominated by a boys’ club, you will also relate to the protagonist firsthand.

If you are none of the above, it is worth reading The Registrar to learn how the hospital system works, as we are all likely to be a hospital patient at some stage. Although a fiction piece, it is well researched and draws on her experiences in the industry.

Author Janakiramanan is a fully qualified plastic and reconstructive surgeon that specialises in hand and wrist surgery. After completing her medical degree, she continued in the gruelling and highly competitive surgical specialty. Once she became a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, she voluntarily studied a further two years of sub-specialty training in hand and wrist surgery.

The novel centres on surgical registrar Emma Swann, married, childless, and with a brother (Andy) also working in the same hospital, The Mount. Their father is remembered as a reputable and outstanding surgeon at The Mount, and both siblings struggle with not only his constant critique but also that of their superiors. The novel is a glimpse into the life of Swann as she works her way up the ladder.

Although it centres mainly in the present, as Emma and Andy are both the children of a father who has lived the life of a surgeon successfully, their interactions with him as adults have been largely affected by the absent fathering they experienced as children. This plays throughout the book.

Although the plot is in some ways predictable, many themes are covered throughout the book. Misogyny, bullying, the workplace culture of humiliation, career disillusionment, burnout, suicide, exhaustion, empathy, and interdepartmental conflicts are some of the topics covered that relate directly to the medical profession.

Outside of the profession, we see in what manner overwork, workplace stress, unrelenting hours, and career ambitions affect interpersonal relationships, marriages, family planning, and life commitments. As you read the novel, although one has a right to feel frustrated and angry (particularly if you have ever been treated in an impersonal way or felt like a number in a medical setting), it is comforting to know the staff are likely to feel the same way. They are individuals trying their best in a behemoth.

Well written with simple relatable medical experiences The Registrar has a well-structured plot with great characters to draw you in emotionally, so much so that the next time you visit a hospital you will have a newfound empathy for the staff after reading it.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: July 2022
RRP: $32.99

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