The Heart Specialist
by Claire Holden Rothman
Cormorant Books Inc., 2009
“The road to hell is paved with hopeful theories.” —Agnes White in The Heart Specialist
Agnes White appears before the dean of McGill University seeking permission to study medicine at the prestigious institution. It is May of 1890. Despite a cheque in her handbag for a large amount of money, the dean flatly refuses her request. Doctors “have to deal with matters to which women ought not to be exposed” he tells her.
“Sometimes a very small hole may be accompanied by a very loud murmur.” —Maude Abbott, “Congenital Cardiac Disease”
The Heart Specialist is a compelling novel based on the real-life story of Dr. Maude Abbott, Montreal’s first female doctor. Like the character in the novel, Abbott walked away in frustration from a McGill Medical School rejection. Like the character in the novel, because of the societal constraints of her time, Abbott travelled a long detour to success in the medical field.
The novel begins with Agnes White dissecting a squirrel in the barn behind her home. She is no ordinary child. More interested in microscopes than embroidery, she pursues a dream inspired by her absentee father—a physician who left the family in the wake of a scandal. More interested in anatomy than hair and stockings, White spends her life building a portfolio of medical successes intended to impress the men she worships as heroes. She develops particular expertise in congenital heart disease, a lethal condition that can pass undetected for years before manifesting itself in tragedy. In the end, her heroes disappoint, but her body of work doesn’t.
“Starting a long way off the true point and proceeding by loops and zigzags, we now and then arrive just where we ought to be.” —George Eliot, Middlemarch
The Heart Specialist will inspire and comfort anyone who doesn’t fit the mould. It will inspire and comfort anyone facing a glass ceiling imposed by the societal constraints of our time. The Heart Specialist will inspire us to stick with a dream, because it might come true, eventually: maybe not for the reasons we imagined or in the way we imagined, but true nonetheless.
This book was longlisted for the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading Evergreen Award and named as 1 of 6 notable Canadian fiction titles in 2009 by Quill & Quire. The novel earned this acclaim. Rothman’s literary writing educates and enthralls.
This is a quality book.
Posted on October 17, 2012, in Book reviews, Books I borrowed, Books I liked so much I bought them after I borrowed them, Fiction and tagged Claire Holden Rothman, Cormorant Books, Giller Prize, Maude Abbott, mcgill medical school, medicine in the 1800s. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.