Thursday, April 8, 2010

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor

An Irish Country DoctorAn Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor is a delightful introduction to the village of Ballybucklebo and it's two physicians. Although it is fiction, it is based on the author's journals when he was himself an Irish country doctor fresh out of medical school. There is the obligatory disclaimer - "All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously" - and the author plainly denies any direct association between himself and Barry Laverty, the young doctor and protagonist of the tale. Nevertheless, it's easy to imagine the plausibility of most, if not quite all, of the characters and incidents, although I doubt all the tales could have been wrapped up so neatly in real life.

We are introduced to Barry Laverty, a recent graduate of medical school, as he is on his way to an interview as an assistant to an established general practitioner in a small village in Northern Ireland. It's the mid-1960's, and his main objective is merely to make the payments on his Volkswagen Beetle. However, he quickly realizes that Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly will give him an education in patient care that he never learned from his textbooks or residency. "...stick with me, son." O'Reilly says. "You'll learn a thing or two the books don't teach you" (51).

Dr. O'Reilly's unorthodox methods are well matched with his patients' eccentricities, which makes for very entertaining reading. As a retired naval surgeon, his language is a bit course at times, but his concern for his patients' lives, their heartaches and financial woes, as well as their aches and pains is certainly evident under his rough exterior. Dr. Laverty quickly learns to adapt his clinical methods to his clientele and is soon winning respect by delivering babies and correctly diagnosing thyroid problems. When he is devastated by a misdiagnoses, Dr. O'Reilly helps to put things in perspective: "...not living up to your own personal standards last night may seem like the end of the world to you. It's not. You'll make mistakes. Even when you've done absolutely everything right, you'll still ask yourself questions when somebody falls off the perch in spite of you. But none of us is te Pope in Rome speaking ex cathedra" (237).

I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more Irish lore and history in this novel, but it's obvious that wasn't the author's purpose. The story is driven by characters, and though those characters were shaped by history most of that is implied rather than explained. So we are only given brief descriptions of the relations between Protestants and Catholics in the town, passing mentions of lingering superstitions, and references to traditional food items. In the last category, Taylor did give a little extra by including three recipes at the end purportedly from the kitchen of Mrs. Kinkaid, better known as Kinky, Dr. O'Reilly's housekeeper, whose story is told in Taylor's newest novel, An Irish Country Girl.

I've heard Taylor's Irish Country books compared to All Things Bright and Beautiful and other titles by James Herriot, but from what I remember, Herriot's tales were more anecdotal, while An Irish Country Doctor recounts only a few weeks' worth of experiences, weaving together the stories of several families and individuals and neatly bringing closure to almost all of them. In that sense, I thought the denouement(s) was a little too good to be true, but it's fiction, and a happy ending all around is sure to please. I plan to read the other Irish Country novels in due time, but I think I'll reserve them for when I need a quick, positive read after some heavier fare.

I read this book as part of the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'll add your review to the challenge page. :)