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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 11 April 2011
Do no harm is the second of Carol Topolski's books that I have read. Like the first it uncovers the secret lives that people lead behind closed doors and drawn curtains.

Virginia is a brilliant robust gynaecologist and obstetrician who (as characters that precede her in monster love) is remarkably drawn by topolski and fatally flawed. She appears in her public persona to be the picture of middle class perfection. She is genius in her job and holds her patients interests and well being as paramount. Secretly she perverse and disturbed in her approach to her own sexual and emotional desires, which lead her to increasingly dark and daring acts.

What I love most about Topolski's writing is her ability to get inside each and every one of her characters. She can just as easily slip into the shoes of a world war veteran as she can an Asian male doctor, facing the usual prejudices of england in the 70s.

She jumps around in time with great ease also and allows the reader to travel seamlessly from virginia's less than perfect childhood to her less than perfect maturity.

A gripping and frightening exploration of what happens when those we elevate to impossible heights in society; let us down in the most unthinkable ways!
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on 31 March 2011
Now that Carol Topolski has a second novel on the bookstore shelves we can begin to detect a theme emerging in the work of this vividly talented new author on the scene - and it's an unusual theme. Most of all, I think, she wants us to have a cracking good read. And we do. There's a complex structure here, with flashbacks and quick changes, but the style is fast and witty and sensuous and she keeps us with her. The story is painful, unexpected, and takes us to the dark side of the human mind. But what is clearer now, with this new work, is the theme of understanding what seems, to most of us, un-understandable, the theme that ran so successfully through Monster Love. She is passionate about her insight into what drives people crazy - the pain and helplessness at the root of it - and she quietly, unobtrusively, as only fiction allows, invites us to join her on the side of humanity. There should be more authors like this, unafraid of giving a lively, compassionate voice to what is usually shunned.
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on 18 March 2011
This an opulantly written and fascinating novel. It had me gripped from the opening pages - where the main protagenist prepares a meal. There are dark hints here of what is to come (and its not just eating disorders) through a serious study of the internal workings of a troubled psyche. The fact that the 'heroine' is an eminent pillar of the community makes it all the more dramatic. We come to understand her past as well as her present professional relationships through layered chapters. Her personal relationships though are both empty and full. Empty of love and full of professional accomplishment and the vicarious thrills of S&M. Despite its subject matter, this is not a book for voyeurs or the prurient, it is rather a thriller (a literary thriller) that takes us on a journey of discovery - and I urge readers to take this journey with Ms Topolski. As a practising pshycoanalyst, she knows her stuff. She also knows how to write a balanced book, for within its pages are characters who love and are loved, throwing into sharper relief the 'sicknesses' when it all goes wrong.

Janet Carol
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on 13 March 2011
I was unable to put this book down! It is a wonderful psychologically thrilling novel with several twists and turns. It's characters are beautifully observed and I loved the way the characters complexity 'grew' on me as the plot developed, and what initially seemed like inexplicable behaviour, gradually became comprehensible and real within the context of the book.
I am already looking forward to the next novel by this author. This is an author who is unafraid of delving into the dark side of human nature, and does it with such humanity and understanding.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 March 2016
This book is about Virginia. She is a top consultant gynecologist who gives papers around the world & people aspire to be part of her team. It is also the story of the internal Virginia that no one apart from Ruby knows.

This was a very difficult book to read. There is no continuity about it at all. Each chapter comes from a different point in time & they tell the story not just of Virginia's life but of people who have been involved with her life; her mother, her father, her cleaner, her registrar, her friend... However, we are not just jumping around Virginia's timeline but also these people's timelines. There is no real continuity or flow at all. I usually quite enjoy books which have several threads going through them & am quite happy with different timescales but this was just a bit much for me. As there are so many different people & places in time involved, in no particular order, I was about half way through the book before I managed to get any grasp on the story at all. The disjointed nature of the narration also meant that I forgot certain events that had happened in earlier chapters & did find myself going back & re-reading chapters again. This happened particularly at the end.

I enjoyed the actual concept of the book. However, it is difficult to explain to you why without giving the game away. This is very much a book that you need to discover for yourself. Revealling too much here would definitely clarify things but at the same time it would loose some of it's impact.

Virginia is an amazing character. A real person of extremes. Although I can't say that I have ever met anyone remotely like her, I have seen small bits of her personality in other people. I can also see that the snatches of disquiet people feel about her are very real. I found Virginia a very interesting & complex character & had I settled to the style of this book better, I feel that I would be awarding this at least another star, maybe more. The supporting characters in this book are well written. The author is able to place an idea of a character's personality in the reader's mind in a matter of pages. Some author's don't manage this in an entire book!

The subject matter of the book is slightly disturbing. Trust, or rather the lack of it, is an integral part of this story. People that we should be able to trust such as parents, friends & Drs don't always turn out to deserve the trust we place in them.

The actual plot of this story is excellent but I struggled terribly with the structure. Had this been written in a different way I think I may have enjoyed it more. I do feel that it is worth trying this book as the actual plot & charactersare good. Hopefully others will cope better with the structure & therefore be able to enjoy this book more than I was.
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on 6 December 2011
Do No Harm is essentially a psychological thriller, although not of your bog standard variety. It is more sophisticated than many books that are bundled into this genre. It might be more correct to describe it as a literary piece.

Superficially it is about a female gynaecologist 'turned bad'. By definition, a doctor 'does no harm' - but this one does. As a premise, a doctor who does harm is alarming, and challenges the readers' preconceptions about a profession that is respected and trusted.

On a deeper level, it's all about mothers, and the damage they do - whether is is inadvertent or intentional. We all have mothers (at some point) and contact with doctors (at some point). They both bring us into the world. Therefore, the initial premise of this book is frightening before you even start reading it.

The story is told through different voices and persectives; all beautifully observed and written with a true understanding of the human psyche, in all its ghastly and complex forms. Although bleak, Carol Topolski writes with a wicked sense of humour, made all the more dark by the stark contrast of the nature and context of the book.

As with her first book, Monster Love, which I genuinely thought was one of the best books I have ever read, and which I found absolutely fascinating and un-put-downable, Do No Harm explores people. Ordinary people and damaged people.

Mental health problems, in whatever guise they manifest, are always fascinating, and this book centers on a woman's struggle with her inner self and demons. As in the first book, it tells of the affect of peoples' actions on others, and this is what is compelling. Carol Topolski has a very distinctive voice and writes with a style which incorporates an appalling sense of foreboding which draws the reader in. Her characters are superbly observed and there were no characters in this book in whom I did not believe. It is grim, and has a plot that is filled with an inevitability and doom that makes for a great and satisfying read. Would highly recommend it.
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No-one could ever accuse Carol Topolski of playing it safe and writing about easy subjects. Her first novel, Monster Love, was about an affluent and successful couple who neglect their child and leave her to die. In her second novel, she tackles the subject of doctors `playing God' and asks how much we can really trust those whose hands we place our lives in.

Virginia Denham is a complex and damaged character. A brilliant and successful Consultant Gynaecologist, on the surface she is tremendously caring and compassionate, going out of her way to help women in distress and supporting the careers of her junior doctors. In return she's adored and admired by patients and colleagues alike, and up to now has successfully hidden and controlled the inner demons that torture her when she hangs up her white coat.

Through a series of flashbacks to her childhood during and after the Second World War, the roots of Virginia's dysfunctional personality are revealed. A precocious and lonely only child, Virginia retreats from her parents' cold and hostile marriage into a dark and increasingly dangerous make-believe world. Fast-forward to the 1970s and Virginia's career is going from strength to strength, until what she perceives as the ultimate act of betrayal finally tips her over the edge.

The other main characters, Faisal and Gilda, are essentially bit players in Virginia's story. I would have like to have learned more about Gilda's unconventional childhood and the dark circles she moves in. Faisal is a bit more `fleshed out`, a dedicated family man and hard-working Registrar on Virginia's firm who hero worships his mentor. However, as the story progresses he starts to doubt her motives and question her infallibility.

For me, the underlying theme of the book is that we never really know what is going on in people's lives, beneath the perfect veneer they present to the world:

"He (Faisal) passes stolid Victorian houses in which people live unsurprising lives, but tonight he finds himself wondering what goes on in there. What blood there is on the carpet. What is buried in the garden."

This book doesn't have the `in-your-face' shock factor of Monster Love; it's a much more subtle read, but just as compelling and thought-provoking. Carol Topolski's background as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist has obviously given her a great insight into the human mind, disturbed or otherwise, and I look forward to her next novel with a mixture of high hopes and trepidation.
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on 14 March 2012
A respected working professional tries to keep her private life away from her work life as do most people but Virgina's private life contains some shocking secrets.

The author divulges into Virgina's past in real detail which lets the reader make their mind up on how and why Virgina's professionalism goes downhill.

Topolski also makes each and everyone of her charachters come alive, making myself as a reader really relating or understanding their stories and lives.

A must read, really enjoyed this ;)
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on 12 April 2012
It's rare to come across a novel that whisks the you off to a world you didn't realise existed, yet might be set next door. Reading the book (published in paperback in 2010) is like completing a numbered painting without knowing what the final image is going to be. Each chapter seduces the reader further into the character's lives revealing slices of a story that keeps you engrossed and hanging on until the last page. The research into what at times feels like a parallel social universe is laid out with a deft touch - avoiding the trap lesser writers fall into - of letting you know they've laboured night and day and don't you the reader ever forget it.

Topolski doesn't spare your blushes as she carries you into the alternative world inhabited by her protagonist Virginia. Flashbacks to 1976 hint at the origins of her present day behaviour and personality; but it's not until close to the end of the 320 page book that the reader is finally let in on her secret. And what a secret!

I loved the style, language and pace too - it all added up to a slickly and confidently written novel, a cut well above the average.
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on 6 March 2011
This is a stunning book. I read the author's first novel, Monster Love, and although the subject is disturbing found it to be very well written and haunting. Excellent read if you can remain detached. I loved Do No Harm. Gripping. Recommended for readers who enjoy their psychological thrillers to be challenging and thought provoking.
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