This memoir by a country doctor Down Under is rife with memorable characters and odd happenings. And the reader gets a glimpse of semi-exotic Australia.
Debut memoirist Carter and his wife moved from their native England to Australia in the 1970s, settling in Melbourne. They tried to start a new, antipodean life after the death of their infant daughter, but the loss eventually killed the marriage. At a loss himself, Carter relocated farther into the countryside and found himself a harried country doctor (underscore “found himself”). Woongarra seems at times like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo: Not only do Carter and his dog, Hardy, have soulful conversations, but Carter has mixed “true life events with small doses of storytelling, and the final brew is a mix of many things that really took place and a few that definitely never did.” We meet Dave, filthy and homeless but an amazing musician; Phill (the second l is silent, he says), the gay waiter with the Carmen Miranda headgear; the prolific Gaggliano clan with their inedible sausages; Teddy and Michael, a gay couple with a gentle hospitality; and several others. Most chapters are humorous, but some are bittersweet and then some. We get the back story—thanks to Teddy’s prompting—of the death (SIDS?) of Carter’s daughter at 10 months. We get the brave story of twisted Isobel and the heartbreaking one of Eileen and Harold, for whom reconciliation comes too late. With Carter, we mourn Hardy’s death. And at book’s end, our hero has found a good woman to be his second wife (“Helen” in the book, Gillian in real life). Carter often gets his leg pulled or gets a bum rap for something not of his own making, but he is an innately cheerful, decent chap, and that shines through. The reader comes to like Doc Carter a lot; he is the antidote to Doc Martin of PBS fame. Carter is an impressively gifted tyro who understands fictional tricks better than many experienced practitioners of the craft.
After this auspicious start, one hopes that the good doctor will keep on writing. Highly recommended. A keeper.