THE HOUSEMAN'S TALE by Colin Douglas


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Houseman"" is British for medical intern, and this stylish but shapeless first novel is the relatively subdued British equivalent of all those raucous American exposÉs, fictional and otherwise, of sloppy, desperate doings in today's understaffed, crassly administered hospitals. True to formula, Douglas provides approximately equal parts of medical horror and sexual hi-jinkery--as witnessed and partaken of by houseman David Campbell of the Royal Charitable Institute for the Care of the Indigent Sick. Among his cases: an elderly poet with a leaking aortic aneurysm (a slow, painful,certain death); a woman kept alive mechanically although cerebrally dead and digesting herself to death (""complications of surgery""-for a hernia); a left mid-thigh amputation; and ""some light relief"" in the form of a Bible-spouting puritan with ""paraphimosis,"" an embarrassing case of minor genital paralysis. And when David's regular sleep-in, nurse Joan, is incapacitated by appendicitis, there's a ""brief and unsatisfying whirl on the roundabout of hospital promiscuity"" and then a more tender involvement with the alluring daughter of that dead poet. David falls ill with hepatitis, sees a colleague die, and entertains grave doubts about his profession. That's about it, with no depth to speak of, but Douglas--half British joker, half taciturn Scotsman--gives the black comedy of hospitals an unbelabored, clear-eyed presentation that is often more convincing and disturbing that the ""zany,"" sensational American equivalents.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1978
Publisher: Taplinger