THIS MONTH’S LITERARY CHOICES OFFER READERS AN INSIGHT INTO THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY OF HUMAN MOTIVATION.
ADMISSIONS Henry Marsh, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, $27.99
From hospital porter to five-star brain surgeon is a spectacular career trajectory but it didn’t end with Mr Marsh’s retirement (unlike doctors, surgeons are addressed as ‘Mr’). When vandals trashed the Oxford cottage Marsh had refurbished with his own hands, his tactless friend pointed out that mullioned ogive windows were not what the cottage needed anyway. Deeply discouraged, Marsh took his skills to rural Nepal, where threats to burn down the hospital followed his honest but doomful diagnosis of a local dignitary. Helping a friend out in the Ukraine he encountered vanity, arrogance and unapologetic incompetence. He was expected to deceive a carelessly blinded patient with the promise that she would recover her sight in due course. In America he was asked to demonstrate new techniques on anaesthetised pigs and freeze-dried human heads. However, the reason you should read this memoir is not for the feats or the many funny stories. Marsh’s honesty is unprecedented. He tells about his failures surgically, sexually and in his battles with ‘the system’. You’ll think twice about letting just any scalpel near your brain after reading this and you’ll also, I guarantee, feel better about your own failures.
NEED YOU DEAD Peter James, Macmillan, $29.99
Hard to spot why James is so compulsively readable, he’s far too expert to let us see how it’s done. This is the 13th in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series. His bailiwick is Brighton, Sussex, and in between pursuing five possible killers he must collect a son from Berlin whom he has never met. This 10-year-old gave me the heebie-jeebies. No doubt the next Grace thriller will reveal more about the youngster.
THE PARTY Robyn Harding, Simon and Schuster, $29.99
A novel which follows a ‘fashionable’ theme or plot line sometimes turns out to be better than the book that set the ball rolling. The current trend is: teenage girls from good homes and with nothing to complain about who menace helpless others. Harding’s outstanding storytelling pulls you in. Fiction helps us to think about consequences and alternatives.
THE OPERATOR Robert O’neill, Simon and Schuster, $45
I watched O’neill speaking with the doyen of American interviewers, Charlie Rose, and got the distinct impression that, for the US Navy SEAL who shot Bin Laden, non-seals weren’t quite real. His memoir reveals why this is so. Mentally, physically and in spirit these men and women are as much like you and me as a Lamborghini is to a wheelbarrow. There is, of course, a price to be paid when mere flesh and blood rises to such heights. Would O’neill want his children to follow in his footsteps? Probably not. The publishers decided to reproduce the censor’s blacking out of sensitive material and even O’neill’s wife is referred to under a pseudonym.