While walking along at BEA I stumbled, almost quite literally, into this book and I couldn’t be happier. I picked it up as soon as I saw a) Scotland, b) historical fiction and c)a brilliant aspiring doctor.
Young women are being discovered dead across the Old Town, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. In the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson.
Simpson’s patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of his intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education.
With each having their own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.
So hello anesthetic history meets fiction? Can I just first off say, that I want more of these medical historical fiction books. First The Impossible Girl and now this one? I’ve been truly blessed this month in my reading choices. Ever since I visited Surgeon’s Hall in Scotland, I’ve been fascinated with medical museums. What better way to come back to Scotland than through The Way of All Flesh.
Not only is it the history of developing anesthesia, mixed with Scotland, it also has really interesting questions being asked about the role of women’s health/midwifery. What were the standards then and how far have women doctors/midwifes come? I am utterly enthralled. I would read like…three other million books about this.
One of our main characters, Sarah is a woman beyond her time. We witness her struggle against the sexism against women. The fact that she is told she must do more of the housework than assist the doctors (even when they make the wrong calls). Or the fact that she is told she must find a husband. I’ll rage with you Sarah. I admire her wanting spirit, her ambition.
What was fascinating to me, was the state of medicine as compared to what we know now, or what I now know. Can you imagine surgery without anesthesia? Until I visited Scotland, I never could, but if you can’t picture it, read this book. I gotta say, my trip there primed me to just kind of instantly fall in love with this book.
At the same time, I also really liked Raven. He is struggling because he has this kind lovable heart and he hates to see the suffering and pain of his patients. Unlike some people. But don’t even get me started on that. Raven has a kind spirit and often times he means well, but can make mistakes. Or when he does make mistakes, he tries to look at them, and then apologize.
Women’s Health Care
But it was impossible for me to read this book and think about the state of women’s health care. The fact that there was such a lack of birth control, combined with the unsanitary conditions of childbirth, plus the fact there’s no easy access for safe abortion when it is needed. All of it just wrung my heart. But, while the conditions are improved, is it so different than today?
I feel like there’s still a lack of knowledge about women’s health. There’s still turning a blind eye to the effects of medicine on women. And there’s still not access or information available to those needing care. While our actual medicine has improved, thank goodness, one cannot dismiss the ways in which women’s health, especially in this book, is taken for granted in order to improve science.
Science isn’t pure. It often requires sacrifices. And it’s subject to the whims of mankind.
This book reminds you all about this, while combining these deeper topics with mystery, compelling characters, and a chase!