Book Review: “Doctor Glass” by Louise Worthington

I got a copy of this book as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC), so knew nothing about it before starting to read it. This, in itself, is very unusual since I tend to read the cover details about a book before buying or borrowing a book. Going into this one – other than knowing vaguely the style of book it was likely to be – had both its positive and negative points.

The best thing, without a doubt, about not knowing anything about the book before reading it was the additional level of mystery that that brought to the contents. It allowed the book to take me on the journey a lot more than would have been the case had I had any additional knowledge.

The downside to not knowing anything about the contents was that it meant that any potential ‘trigger warnings’ related to content that the summary may provide were not there. I am still undecided to what degree ‘trigger warnings’ are really helpful or necessary. With my own work on a plane crash (see my research on the JL123 crash and my books “Dealing with Disaster in Japan” and “Osutaka“) I have sometimes provided a warning at the start of conference presentations – but I have largely stopped doing this since it’s usually obvious from the title what topic I will be dealing with and so people who have a fear of flying, for example, would be able to excuse themselves. The only time I tend to keep any warning is when showing or playing particularly disturbing media that may not be expected by the audience. For my teaching, I generally don’t provide ‘trigger warnings’, but note at the start of a module/course, that there is a possibility that any class could steer into a subject that some may find difficult – part of the problem here is there is no way of knowing the huge range of topics that could be problematic for an audience. It’s for that reason also that I don’t provide any trigger warnings for my novels and assume that the blurb that goes with the book will be sufficient.

I have read a book (“Her Name is Knight” by Yasmin Angoe) which not only provided trigger warnings, but also a list of (US-based) support lines. I don’t really see this as the way forward for books. When it comes to “Doctor Glass”, I don’t think it needed any particular trigger warnings, if I had familiarised myself with the book more it would have been sufficient (and I see from its listing on Amazon that it does have the following text “CONTENT GUIDANCE: This novel explores aspects of psychology and mental health and contains depictions of self-harm, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and suicide. Please read with care.”). Unfortunately I was reading parts of the book when I was feeling particularly low, and so I did find the book a challenge, but I continued on and was pleased that I did.

I actually flew through this book in a few days – which was a bit of a surprise, not only due to the issues just touched upon, but also because I wasn’t sure after the few pages whether I was going to like the style of the book. I felt that the first chapter, in particular, was almost trying to do too much – there were so many similes and such like that it felt very forced. Now I cannot remember what the first chapter was about or what it’s significance was to the rest of the book – but the style settled down and became something that I could more easily connect with.

In terms of connections, one thing I was not expecting was for the book to be set primarily in and around Shrewsbury – the town where I was born and close to which I spent my whole childhood as I have posted about elsewhere (see, for example, Favourite Poems – “A Shropshire Lad” by A.E.Housman, A Visit to Attingham Park, and Book Review: “The Lucky Ones” by Mark Edwards). That I have been visiting Shrewsbury and Shropshire more over the past couple of years, also added to the feeling that the timing of the book was appropriate and helped me connect with it.

The book starts (over a few chapters) with presenting us with many different characters – something, as I have mentioned in some other reviews, I tend to struggle with. I tend to be very bad at remembering names, so having to get on top of so many names and characters early on in a book is not helpful to me. In the end, I actually merged and confused some of the characters together – which I had thought was a deliberate plan of the book, but I now suspect was more down to my own problems with names.

The book contains many ‘pillars of truth‘ – those bits that help make a book believable and tend to us not worrying so much about the less believable parts (or actually ‘flipping’ those parts to making us think they are believable). But there were also bits which in “Doctor Glass” remained unbelievable and frustratingly so. I won’t discuss the glaring one here as I don’t want to include any spoilers, but it was a shame that a way wasn’t found to deal with the issue more satisfactorily in the book. I also wonder whether more detailed discussion of certain mental conditions (such as Stockholm Syndrome) would have been helpful to show that psychology still contains areas where many/most concepts are still theories rather than absolute ideas (something which is at the heart of one aspect of the book) (and something I have discussed in relation to bereavement – a key theme in this book – in my article “Developing a Model to Explain Modifications to Public Transportation Accident Memorials“) to help us further understand the degree to which Doctor Glass understands her field.

Reading the blurb at the end of the book, I see that this is to be the first in a new series based around Doctor Glass. I did enjoy the book and could imagine reading the next one – but there are things that I would like to see more of (as just mentioned) and perhaps other aspects where it can be dialled back (in terms of style and what happens to characters introduced in the book – another book like this will lead to readers expecting certain things to happen which will undermine the impact).

Finally, as noted at the start, I got this book as an ARC. It’s great to see a publisher doing to much work to help promote a book and one of their authors (I see from Amazon that many reviews are from those who got an ARC) – as not enough do this.

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