1 October 2019 Susannah

Two Memoirs

Tara Westover, Educated; Adam Kay, This is Going to Hurt.

I have two intriguing and very different memoirs to recommend this month. Both would make excellent book club choices as there is so much in them to think over and discuss.

The first is Educated by Tara Westover which has been a recent bestseller and has won many awards. Tara grew up in a survivalist Mormon family in Idaho. Her parents had a deep suspicion of doctors, schools and the government. Her birth was never registered so, on paper, she did not exist, which was a problem when she finally decided she needed to go to university. Entirely self-taught (she even had to find out for herself what the Holocaust was because no-one had ever told her about it), she managed eventually to gain a doctorate in Intellectual History from Cambridge University, but the process involved breaking away from her family.

One brother regularly abused Tara, forcing her head into the toilet bowl. He went on to abuse his wife too. How Tara managed to escape from her appalling home life (where medical disasters went untreated except by herbal remedies) and get herself a good education makes for riveting reading. She is never cruel about her strange family and tells her amazing story in a balanced and reasoned way. It was an unforgettable book which reminds you that there are people in this world leading very strange lives.

We all hear about the exhaustion of young doctors, but Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor makes you feel his exhaustion all too strongly. It won Book of the Year at the National Book Awards, has been translated into 36 languages, and has sold over 1.5 million copies. The book is a real indictment of Britain’s National Health Service. Adam Kay can be blisteringly funny – he works in obstetrics and gynaecology and his anecdotes of weird things inserted into orifices can be hilarious.

But it’s also a sad book as he reveals the harrowing cases he must deal with, the impact on his personal life of the extreme work hours, and what finally makes him leave the medical profession altogether. Adam now works as a comic writer for TV and one feels the NHS is the poorer for losing a fine doctor, but the book does make you think about what doctors go through behind the unflappable exteriors they present to patients. This is a book that can make you laugh out loud, but at other times feel very close to tears. I loved it!

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.


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Featured image credit- Tara Westover, Educated; Adam Kay, This is Going to Hurt. Bookcover images from https://www.goodreads.com
Body image credit- Adam Kay, https://www.facebook.com/talfestival/photos/pcb.1966912480079675/1966910003413256/?type=3&theater

Comments (6)

  1. Vasudha

    I’m reading ‘This is Going to Hurt’ at the moment and loving it! Simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Wasn’t it a good book. Funny and almost tragically moving, especially at the end. Do hope to see you at JASA before too long.

  2. Brian Doyle

    Reading Educated is an education, how someone can survive such mental and physical abuse and go on
    to write about it in such a brilliant and relatively non judgemental way is what makes this such a compelling read, another similar book is The Glass Castle which has one of the best opening paragraphs of any memoir.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks for The Glass Castle recommendation. Yes, it’s amazing that Tara could write so calmly and fluently after all she had been through. What a family!!

      • Brian Doyle

        Religious bigotry and ignorance combined with violence in such a remote and narrow world is certainly a toxic brew, I’m sure it’s very widespread and most victims would not have Tara’s outcome. Miriam Margoyle’s did a frightening trip through the American Bible Belt, so many dangerous scary people.

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Was that the Miriam Margoyles series about Dickens in America? I remember loving it and of course could sympathise with Miriam as she had to face all that religious bigotry and still be polite.

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