Based on journals the author kept during his early years in medical practice, this debut novel describes a young man’s apprenticeship as a doctor in rural Ireland during the early 1960s.
Fresh out of medical school in Belfast, Barry Laverty is looking for a different experience from most of his classmates. He takes a position assisting Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly in scenic Ballybucklebo, a town so tiny it hardly makes it onto the map. Rule-following Barry doesn’t know what to make of his boss, a GP who seems to practice by gut, conducting less than thorough examinations on some patients and stretching the truth to others. Charmed and bullied by O’Reilly, Barry quickly becomes acquainted with the patients, and embroiled in Ballybucklebo’s mini-dramas. (The most tantalizing one involves a pregnant young maid who refuses to divulge the identity of either her employer or her child’s father; the doctors suspect a powerful local man.) Barry still has his doubts about O’Reilly’s methods, particularly when he catches a misdiagnosis, but he realizes that he has a lot to learn from the old guy after he makes a mistake of his own, underestimating the symptoms of a notorious hypochondriac. The fledgling doctor’s personal life becomes complicated when he meets Patricia, a pretty young engineering student from a neighboring town who is crippled by polio. Though both are smitten, Patricia worries that she won’t be able to devote enough time to the romance. She comes around, and as Barry becomes more confident about his abilities, he decides that there’s nowhere that he’d rather practice than Ballybucklebo. The town is an easy place for readers to sink into as well, with likable characters and atmospheric dialogue—though the plot is a bit thin.
A sweetly affable story with little substance.