Rosie's Book Review team 1

My review of The Doctor’s Daughter by Vanessa Matthews

 I give this book 5 out of  5*


I read the blurb on the Amazon page of The Doctor’s Daughter by Vanessa Matthews after I’d written the review and I have to say I think there is too much of the story told there. I needed to go back and change much of what I had written.

The Blurb:

“A prominent psychiatrist’s daughter realises insanity can be found much closer to home when she unlocks secrets from the past that threaten to destroy her future.

It’s 1927, women have the right to vote and morals are slackening, but 23 year old Marta Rosenblit is not a typical woman of her time. She has little connection with her elder sisters, her mother has been detained in an asylum since Marta was born and she has spent her life being shaped as her father Arnold’s protégé. She is lost, unsure of who she is and who she wants to be. Primarily set in Vienna, this dark tale follows her journey of self-discovery as she tries to step out of her father’s shadow and find her identity in a man’s world. Her father’s friend Dr Leopold Kaposi is keen to help her make her name, but his interest is not purely professional and his motivations pose greater risks that she could possibly know. Marta’s chance encounter in a café leads to a new friendship with young medical graduate Elise Saloman, but it soon turns out that Elise has some secrets of her own. When Marta’s shock discovery about her family story coincides with her mother’s apparent suicide, Marta can’t take anymore. None of the people she has grown to love and trust are who they seem. Her professional plans unravel, her relationships are in tatters and her sanity is on the line – and one person is behind it all.”

Almost says it all – certainly too much for me. I try not to give spoilers in my reviews and to only concentrate on the way the plot, the characters, the dialogue and the settings bring a novel to life for me as a reader.

However, it’s there for all to see.

Considering it is a disturbing novel, with themes of manipulation and emotional and mental cruelty it might seem odd to read that I enjoyed The Doctor’s Daughter. Yet I did; because I liked the writing style of Vanessa Matthews, because it is so sensitively written, and because of the compelling plot. Although I found it a little slow to begin (there is a lot of introspective internal dialogue) I soon became used to this and was more and more engrossed as the book progressed.

Mainly set in Vienna, in the early part of the last century, the story is populated by good rounded characters. Virtually isolated within her family, the protagonist, Marta Rosenblit, is complex yet with a certain naivety. Exposed to outside society but only within her father’s control as his protégé, and only as long as she doesn’t challenge his expertise and opinions. Even so she holds a dream of being able to connect and make her way in this most patriarchal of worlds. Elise Saloman, a recently qualified paediatrician, who becomes Marta’s friend, is shown as a foil for the protagonist, being a strong-willed, resolute character. But even so Elise has secrets of her own – one that is ultimately revealed to have connections with Marta. Arnold Rosenblit is portrayed as a controlling, self-centred and formidable character with no empathy for Marta and no time for anyone who doesn’t share his views on the female psyche. He could have been shown as a flat, unchanging character, but Matthews manages to show another layer to him by revealing his vulnerability in his relationship with his institutionalised wife. Leopold Kaposi, a physician and long-time friend of the family, is portrayed as self-obsessed, manipulative. As an antagonist he is the only character I felt didn’t grow throughout the story. But that was okay; he was a good one to dislike and therefore I felt justified as his motivations were gradually revealed.

The book is mainly written as third person point of view,  from Marta’s perspective. We are given access to her internal dialogue, which reveals the many facets of her given personality  and also gives the readers her thoughts on the other players in her world. This is  interspersed with the occasional viewpoint of other characters. The dialogue is excellent and remains true to each the characters all the way through the book.

There is little obvious intervention to describe the world the characters inhabit, yet throughout the novel the atmospheric narrative it is a subtle and integral part of the story and portrays a setting the reader can feel part of.

As I said at the beginning this is a dark and sometimes disturbing read, with many disquieting themes. It’s a challenge. But I think the reader will be surprised by the denouement. I know I was. And I have no hesitation in recommending this novel by Vanessa Matthews. She is a tremendously good writer and I look forward to reading more of her in the future.

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