Marianne's Reviews > The Family Doctor

The Family Doctor by Debra Oswald
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it was amazing
Read 2 times. Last read January 25, 2021 to January 28, 2021.

“I don’t want to psychologise this. I don’t want to explain this away or analyse it in a way that drains the blood out of the primal bare fact of it: a man murdered his own children and their mother.”

The Family Doctor is the third adult novel by prize-winning Australian playwright and author, Debra Oswald. For twenty-five years, Stacey, Paula and Anita have been friends. Careers and life events have parted them at times, but now they are all, once again, in Sydney. For the last five months, Paula has shared her home with Stacey and her children as refuge from an abusive husband. That ends when the man enters her home, shoots dead his children and his estranged wife, and then turns the gun on himself.

After the initial shock that Paula and Anita suffer, their ongoing grief morphs into bewilderment and self-blame for missing signs, leading to discussion about how they could have helped Stacey hide, and then anger and indignance that this should ever be necessary. They even remark how men like that ought to be killed. Paula returns to her home determined to make the good memories eclipse the bad, and to her GP practice with an extra-vigilant eye on women and children.

But “Once an idea had been said aloud, even in a flippant way, it could establish its own blood supply in a person’s imagination”

As a court reporter, Anita funnels her rage into a long feature about how the system failed to protect women and children killed by men. That involves her attendance at the murder trial of John Santino, accused of pushing his girlfriend from an overpass into the path of a truck when she tried to leave him. She shares with Paula the daily progress of the trial, confident that this dangerous man will be put behind bars, and the heavily pregnant new girlfriend he parades daily in front of the media scrum will be safe.

Paula treats a young boy whose mother reluctantly admits she is under the control of such a man, a woman for whom the system is ineffective. What does Paula do when presented with the unexpected opportunity to remove the threat? Conflicting thoughts run through her brain: “It would be wrong to use her knowledge of the situation and her skills to intervene. It would be wrong, given her knowledge of the danger this woman faced, not to use her skills to intervene.”

Anita muses later “It was as if the malevolence from those men had oozed out of them, infecting the air, spreading until it turned a truly good person like Paula into a murderer.”

In her thought-provoking story, Oswald describes the common pattern that these murders by malevolent men follow, and examines what could happen when the system fails the vulnerable and the anger and despair push those who feel powerless into something they would ordinarily never consider doing. With a few small vignettes, Oswald so deftly paints her victims that the reader’s heart cannot help but ache for their loss, and the devastating effects of that loss on those who remain.

Her characters are believably flawed, their reactions entirely credible and their dialogue natural, if sometimes blackly funny. Oswald’s descriptive prose is wonderfully evocative: “A papery version of herself”, and she gives the reader a bit of romance, an exciting climax and a wholly realistic ending.

Good advice is to have some tissues ready for parts of this brilliantly-written tale. Powerful, topical and extremely relevant, this is an outstanding read.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Allen & Unwin.
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Reading Progress

January 2, 2021 – Shelved
January 2, 2021 – Shelved as: to-read
January 25, 2021 – Started Reading
January 26, 2021 –
page 56
January 27, 2021 –
page 100
January 28, 2021 –
page 268
January 28, 2021 –
page 357
January 28, 2021 – Finished Reading
May 28, 2021 – Started Reading (Audiobook Edition)
May 28, 2021 – Shelved (Audiobook Edition)
May 29, 2021 –
22.0% (Audiobook Edition)
May 30, 2021 –
66.0% (Audiobook Edition)
May 31, 2021 –
100.0% (Audiobook Edition)
May 31, 2021 – Finished Reading (Audiobook Edition)

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