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Success Stories

by James Morrow

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Buy this book from Amazon

ISBN 1857766822
Published by The Book Guild Ltd, 2002
283pp, hardback
Retail price £15.95
 
 
 

This is a story about dilemmas. Major dilemmas, life or death dilemmas. Who better to write about them than a man who not only works as a doctor in a highly specialised field, but does so in Northern Ireland?

It would be difficult to write a novel with a Belfast setting without mentioning "the Troubles". The continuation of the peace process, as James Morrow makes abundantly clear, does not mean that everyone in the Province is safe from violence. Yet, to begin with, the reader imagines that the drama at the centre of a plot is merely a medical one. The action is a little slow to get started, not really getting into its stride until half way through. Up to that point, despite CJ's work as a journalist, we don't expect him to be in danger; it is his wife, Julie, whose life is at risk.

Poor Julie. The book's "happy" ending left me with an uncomfortable feeling. While she is busy dying of an incurable disease, her husband appears to be preoccupied with smoking himself to death. Then again, if I were a doctor in Northern Ireland, I might well feel compelled to turn to humour as an antidote for the harsh realities of everyday life, looking for a way of depicting Julie's illness as an event that may lead to a better life for others.

I liked the characterisation, and particularly Mr Morrow's wheeze of putting himself into the story as a minor character, consultant neurologist John Anderson. The females, especially the appalling Olivia, were less rounded than the two men at the centre of the story, but without being unbelievable. What was unconvincing, to me at least, was the central plot. The story of the Round Ireland golf challenge, whilst entertaining, was never going to be enough to fill a book which appears to have, as one of its aims, the need to acquaint the public with the damage being done by penny-pinching in the NHS. The interweaving plot strand concerning the IRA arms dump, on the other hand, never quite rang true. What, exactly, was CJ supposed to have done that made the terrorists go after him rather than his editor? And why did they need to track him down at all, when they apparently already knew exactly what had happened?

These considerations aside, James Morrow has taken the sensible step of writing about what he knows, in this, his first novel. Three things he knows, to be more precise: medicine, golf, and Northern Irish politics. I couldn't go so far to say that he is as good a writer as he (presumably) is a physician, but there were certainly sequences that held my attention - particularly the raid on the post office, complete with its very effective two-page character sketch of a hardened IRA man.

He does, however, have some bad writing habits, the worst of which is a tendency to superfluous and sometimes rather lame dialogue.

"'Thanks a lot, guys,' Harry said, looking alternatively from Emma to Julie.

'I'm sorry, Harry, I didn't know there was a history there,' pleaded Emma.

'I think you'll find that with Olivia it's less a history and more a herstory.'

Emma looked puzzled."

As well she might.

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher