I was surprisingly devastated by the events that open The Family Doctor by Debra Oswald. The author sets them up well and they trigger everything that comes after. I was worried however, that what did come next would be predictable: a cynical and distrustful woman driven mad by guilt and sadness and committing vengeful acts as a result.
Thankfully however, the book wasn’t at all like that. The two leads Oswald gives us are fabulously nuanced. And fears I had regarding ‘the family doctor’, GP Paula, being overly obsessed and paranoid were unfounded.(TW: domestic and family violence)The Family Doctor
by Debra Oswald
Published by Allen & Unwin
Genres: Women's Fiction, General Fiction
Paula is a dedicated suburban GP, who is devastated by the murder of a friend and her children by their estranged husband and father. Stacey and the children had been staying with her after fleeing his control, and Paula is haunted by the thought that she couldn't protect them when they most needed it. How had she missed the warning signs? How had she failed to keep them safe?
Not long after, a patient with suspicious injuries brings her anxious young son into Paula's surgery. The woman admits that her husband hurts her, but she's terrified to leave for fear of escalating the violence, and defeated by the consistent failures of the law to help her.
Can Paula go against everything she believes to make sure one woman is saved, one child spared? She isn't motivated by revenge. She's desperately trying to prevent a tragedy . . .
I expected Paula’s contemplation over the patient referenced in the back cover blurb to be drawn-out and laborious. However… Oswald delves into Paula’s mind in a way that takes we readers along and we’re there as she’s weighing up consequences. Paula is – in fact – very aware of the impact the murders (in the opening scene) have had on her and conscious of her reaction. She’s far from mad. Her actions are far more deliberate and considered.
I liked Paula and the back cover blurb implies that this book is about her. But it’s not the case. I related far more to Anita. Anita, Paula and Stacey were longtime friends so Anita’s also grappling with grief and guilt. She’s a journalist so privy so some horrible stories in court and aware of the justice system’s failures. She channels her anger into a piece about domestic violence and instances where the law has failed to protect women and children. It’s a timely topic of course as it’s been debated here in Australia for a number of years because of deaths that have attracted significant media attention.
As a single middle aged woman I almost jumped for joy when I realised this novel wasn’t going to be centred around a mother or wife and domestic noir. Paula is widowed and Anita still single, though there’s some romance for Anita and I very much liked the way Oswald portrays that – without game-playing and with honesty that felt very real.
Oswald was creator of the popular television series Offspring and written for a myriad of other shows. Her character-development and tension-building experience are evident here as she creates very real worlds for our two women and they’re complex characters who are both faced with moral challenges and life-determining decisions.
Rather than being centred around obsessive distrust and formulaic revenge I appreciated that Oswald gives us something far more unique and creative.
The Family Doctor by Debra Oswald was published by Allen & Unwin in early March 2021.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.