Tag Archives: irish literature

An Irish Country Doctor

Irish Country Doctor Cover

Book type: FIction

Summary: Dr. Barry Laverty, fresh out of medical school, finds himself in the countryside of Northern Ireland as an apprentice to Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, General Practitioner to the villagers of fictional Ballybucklebo. And as it generally goes in life, what he learned in school isn’t quite how the real world works. He’s frequently disappointed or upset by the methods used by Dr. O’Reilly, but he also learns a lot in his first few months as the senior doctor’s sidekick. He even comes to appreciate the small world of Ballybucklebo, with its eccentric residents–both humans and animals, like O’Reilly’s dog that humps his leg every time he ventures into the backyard. Life in provincial Ulster has its lessons for Barry and has some for us too.

Lessons:

  1. Don’t worry about the consideration of others. Early on in Barry’s introduction to Ballybucklebo, he discovers the dynamic between the country doctor and country villagers isn’t what he expected. One of the first lessons O’Reilly gives him is to never let the patients get the upper hand. At first this seems antithetical to the point of practicing medicine in Barry’s mind, however O’Reilly then tells him that if he didn’t operate the way he does, they would walk all over him, saying: “‘Didn’t take me long to find out that consideration for other people can be one of the lesser attributes of some members of the species Homo sapiens‘” (80). This lesson has an actual application that hits close to home for me, or at least for my brother. Recently my brother told me a story of how our grandmother, when she was still living, had given him some sound advice. He was concerned about how other people would think of him for something seemingly trivial. She stopped him and said, “If you knew how little other people think of you it would hurt your feelings.” Zinger! But really, stop being worried about whether other people consider you or whether they’re considerate to you. As the popular wisdom goes: go ‘head girl, you do you. That’s an Emerson quote, if I’m not mistaken.
    Emerson Quote - Be Yourself
  2. Sometimes life makes you shovel shit. Barry has a friend in the novel, Jack, who is a surgeon at the nearest hospital and he sometimes meets him for dinner or drinks. During one such visit they reminisce about life during medical school and how boring so many things were that they had to do as students, and how boring things continued even after they finished school. Jack reminds Barry of the words of an English registrar from their time there (after he complained to her about his boredom): “‘Old boy, in this life there will always be a certain amount of shit to be shovelled. I really would urge you to buy a long-handled spade and simply get on with it'” (99). This is a valuable lesson for all of us. Some people hate household chores, others hate workplace politics, still others hate family or social obligations. The fact is that either you can refuse to participate in any of those things and have a) no clean underwear, b) no possibility of being promoted, and c) no family/friends, or you can man/woman up and start shoveling that shit.
    Dog Lesson - Kick Grass Shit
  3. Advice doesn’t always have to be true to be helpful. Not long after Barry starts his work with Dr. O’Reilly, he has a day off and takes the train into Belfast and happens to meet a woman named Patricia who utterly captivates him. Unfortunately, she’s also a very serious student of engineering and doesn’t think she has the time or energy to spend cultivating a relationship with Barry, so their courtship ends. Barry, being the hopeless romantic that he is–and I do mean hopeless–is having a hard time getting over the loss of his soulmate. Compounding his sorrow is the fact that he made a misdiagnosis of a local resident, Major Fotheringham’s symptoms, resulting in his hospitalization and a difficult recovery. O’Reilly gives him some advice: “‘So finish your whiskey. […] Forget about Fotheringham. Forget about your heart. Girls are like buses. There’s always another one along soon.'” Barry then asks O’Reilly if he really believes what he’s just said: “‘No,’ said O’Reilly, ‘but there’s no reason you shouldn’t'” (238). Even though O’Reilly doesn’t believe it and even though it may be trite, his advice isn’t necessarily unsound. There’s a reason clichés become just that: sometimes the advice is good, but it’s cited so frequently that it loses its power. Sometimes those sentiments just need to be rephrased to be useful (i.e. instead of “plenty of fish in the sea,” comparing love interests to buses) and sometimes advice doesn’t have to hold true to help someone through a difficult moment.

A final review/recommendation:

Taylor, an established doctor himself, does a great job of creating a backdrop for the education of Barry Laverty. In some ways An Irish Country Doctor is almost a Bildungsroman, except instead of being the coming of age of an adolescent boy, it’s of a nascent doctor. The book is very simple, much like many of Ballybucklebo’s residents, but like them it’s simple in the best of ways: unpretentious, relatable, and entertaining. The first book in a series of many, An Irish Country Doctor is a quick read and makes for great spring reading, so next time March comes around and you’re considering an Irish book for St. Paddy’s day, pick up Taylor’s novel and be entertained by witticisms like this one about a “change of heart” that’s happened to a character named Councillor Bishop: “‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. That bugger Bertie Bishop? That man has a heart that would make Pharaoh’s hard one look like a marshmallow, so he has'” (302). And if you’re a reader you’ll appreciate the two doctors’ constant quoting of literature. And if you’re like me, you’ll smile ear to ear for the fact that Dr. O’Reilly is named after the fabulous and somewhat supercilious Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde–the greatest of the great.

Photo credits:

Book cover: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-P-4GrrorB-4/Uxe1N1vaEAI/AAAAAAAAS5A/MRaOfdl-rUo/s1600/IrishCtryDr.jpg
Sassy Emerson: http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0273/4903/products/ralph-waldo-emerson-fridge-magnet-1_large.jpg?v=1380467104
Kick That Shit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/474x/a3/26/91/a326913fd2e35c68d5d8b9016acafe95.jpg

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The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue

 

Book type: Fiction

Summary: The first book in the trilogy deals with the protagonist Caithleen (or Kate) in her adolescence in western Ireland, including the death of her mother, issues with her alcoholic father, and her complicated friendship with another girl, Baba. Book two is about the two girls’ lives in Dublin and Kate falling in love with an older man named Eugene (who turns out to be a jerk). The final book picks up with Kate and Baba and their husbads (including jerk Eugene) and then follows the decay of Kate’s relationship and her difficulties with living on her own and trying to see her son Cash so that he doesn’t lose his mother like she lost hers: too young.

 

Lessons:

  1. Fight fairly and if the other person doesn’t, leave ’em. Multiple times in this book Kate gets into arguments with her man Eugene and he calls her stupid, crazy, overly sensitive, and many other hurtful words. And she internalizes them and becomes convinced that she is all those things. Now, I’m not saying that you should disregard any criticism your partner gives you, but if (s)he can’t give it to you in a way that is respectful and seems constructive–versus destructive–that’s not a person you should take criticism from. The Golden Rule; it’s that simple.
  2. The best revenge is to live well. So after you’ve dumped the jerk you’re with, or the friend who doesn’t treat you well, remember that going back or showing off to your ex (friend/boyfriend/wife, etc.) just looks desperate. Focus on bettering your life and spending time with people that make you happy. And work on being happy being with just yourself. Someone who has belittled you will hope you’re thinking about them and living in the shadow of their memory. So don’t do that. Live well and occupy yourself with things that matter. I’m really starting to sound like Epictetus now, aren’t I?
  3. If it matters to you, do it now. The character Baba in this book says “I suppose up to the time people die you think their lives will improve, or you’ll get on better with them, but once they’re dead you know neither thing is possible” (386) and Baba is right. So if it matters, do it now.

    If you won’t listen to me, at least listen to Arnold.

     

  4. Go back to the lessons from the professor. A couple weeks ago I reviewed How to Read Literature Like a Professor and one of the lessons was that setting matters. O’Brien’s book demonstrates this point well: the main character could live anywhere and have her mother die and her father be an alcoholic, but only in certain places would the local priest chalk up alcoholism to tradition, or condone the father following his daughter across the country and physically forcing her back to her hometown, to the point where the law doesn’t matter, because the father is “justified” in his actions. So in this case, setting matters. Also, Kate travels to London (which, according to Foster, always equals a journey of self-discovery) and ends up in the same poor circumstances because she doesn’t grow and learn; she doesn’t discover herself. Remember what the professor taught you and think about why place matters.
  5. Always read the epilogue. In the case of O’Brien’s trilogy if you only read to the end of the third book and didn’t read the epilogue, you’d close the book with a very different idea of how the characters’ lives continue beyond the pages you’ve read than if you read the epilogue. The author wrote it intending you to read it, so read it and then determine which ending point would’ve been more effective from your point of view.

A final review/recommendation:

This trilogy is excellent and more than once I found myself a bit teary-eyed for the protagonist and wishing I could be there to give her advice, because who hasn’t been with someone (a friend, significant other, etc) who mistreated you? We all have. And some learn from these experiences, and others continue to seek out people with those same characteristics, to their own detriment. O’Brien’s trilogy is a heartbreaking look into a woman “acquainted with grief” (to borrow the saying about Jesus) and if you invest yourself in it, this insight will make you think more deeply about how you are with others and the effect that we can have on other people and that they can have on us. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

 

Photo credits:
Book cover: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41rJ14uV6GL._SY300_.jpg
Arnold: http://www.tfw2005.com/boards/attachments/transformers-toy-discussion/27352841d1363349738-uk-toy-discussion-arnold-schwarzenegger-screaming-kindergarten-cop_480_poster.jpg

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