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on 22 February 2009
Another of my impulse buys, well sort of, read a review in the paper and thought 'must read'. Like Atul Gawande's books, if you have the slightest interest in surgery then read this. It is different to his books though as the reader gets inside the mind more of this surgeon. Admittedly the book is 'faction' rather than true non-fiction but perhaps it was a double bluff and everything is really true with the names changed to protect the innocent!

Gabriel Weston certainly displays both ends of the compassion scale, seemingly none (and chastises herself for it) and then eventually immense which leads her to 'have a good word with herself' - which she does................

The style of writing is excellent and very readable. I've been in theatre hundreds of times (with work, no I am not medically trained at all) and her writing took me straight back in there. I particularly liked the politics that she described, again I have witnessed that a lot in my 22 years in the medical devices field.

I also liked her professional frailty - fancying patients - showing a human side that some consultants are unable to display, but perhaps the job creates that.

Extremely good book my only criticisms are that it was not about orthopaedics and the proof reading got a bit lazy in the last quarter.
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on 22 March 2010
I don't usually read this type of book i.e. anything medical makes me feel a bit queasy. However, after reading the newspaper reviews I was intrigued and had high hopes. When I receiving it I was immediately disappointed by the fact that it was very thin, the pages were smallish it was obviously a very short book. Consequently I had finished it in a few hours reading. It was quite frustrating because there were many potentially interesting episodes that would have been so much better, interesting and informative if she had written them more fully. I wish someone could have advised her when writing it to put more flesh on the bones as I think it was potentially a much much better book which the writer did have the skill to produce. Another slightly annoying feature is that the proof reading is flawed. Another small gripe is that a glossary of medical terms would not have been much trouble to add but I ended up having to consult Wikipaedia a number of times. So basically an opportunity lost I think, but if she wants to write another I hope her potential will be revealed as there were many glimpses of good stuff here.
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on 18 March 2009
Many 'medical memoirs' are just a collection of gory stories from the coal face designed to titillate a non medical readership. I am a practicing doctor and have given up on many of these in the past. This book however demonstrates an insightfulness not seen before in other texts. The medical 'stories' described in this book are a mere window dressing to greater questions about the emotional challenges of clinical practice. The author demonstrates great self awareness and observational skills in her narrative. As the husband of a female surgeon it was also nice to discover that she is not alone in the internal commentary of her own experiences. Well done.
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on 9 March 2009
I have just finished reading Direct Red and thoroughly enjoyed it. I am in no way connected to the medical profession and found the insight fascinating. It follows Gabriel's progress through training and acting as a surgeon.
A patient will never know what their doctor is really thinking or feeling at any point during treatment and this book provides an insight. The book is very well written and some of the situations are extremely comical, whilst others are very thought provoking and heart wrenching. Overall a really enjoyable and interesting read.
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on 7 February 2009
This book is simply brilliant. As a doctor, I am usually very reluctant to spend any spare time doing anything associated with my day job. However, I could not resist reading Direct Read. Insightful, honest, and reflective, you journey through an extraordinary world experienced by an unusually womanly female surgeon. Beautifully and cleverly written it also has the quality of accessibility. Any technical surgical details blend seamlessly with the story telling and describe the reality with imagination and accuracy. However, the dramatic events that unfold in each short storey are only one aspect of this book. Weston's passion and humanity stand out and distinguishes Direct Red from anything else written in this genre. It is impossible to put down. I have little doubt that you will read it in one sitting and feel sorry that it is over so quickly. A second read is essential. I cannot wait for more from this new and talented author.
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on 25 February 2010
The reviews for this book have been excellent, praising its prose and honesty in particular (the latter despite the author's understandable caveat at the beginning of the book that the text is not the whole truth and nothing but the truth... our libel laws aren't the best). The inference from the critics was clear - here was something special. And given the fact it was about a world very few of us have any real access to, except as patients, all the more interesting did the book seem.

But it proved such a disappointing read; the writing is amazingly unspectacular and leaden. The literary analogies in the text are clumsily grafted in and there very is little feeling of insight and real intelligence. To be honest, there's not a great deal to be gleaned from its pages.

This is not to say it's a bad book. But much better non-fiction was published in 2009 which didn't get a fraction of the coverage and commendation this book received and that is a real shame. What were the reviewers thinking? Perhaps they just weren't. They certainly failed to do their job properly in this case.
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on 25 April 2016
I found this book utterly riveting. I don't have any particular medical background so read this out of curiosity and an interest in other people's lives. Gabriel Weston has written an utterly fascinating memoir of her years as a medical student and then as a newly qualified registrar. Her observations of her patients, herself, and the human condition are insightful and beautifully portrayed. I picked up the book intending to dip in and ended up reading the whole thing within the space of 24 hours. It's amusing in someplaces, heartbreaking in others, but written with such elegance that the whole reading experience is a complete joy.
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Direct Red by Gabriel Weston is a memoir of seemingly isolated episodes of the first years of her career as a surgeon in London. I was predisposed to like the book, which I hoped would be like those of Atul Gawande (Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science), William Nolen (Making of Surgeon), and Katrina Firlik (Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside). But there were a few things about the book that bugged me. Right away, Weston admits that the people she writes about are not real. Because of privacy issues, the characters she creates are bits and pieces of the real doctors and patients she knows. This bothers me because I like non-fiction to be non-fictional.

I also found the style of writing to be awkward and self-conscious. I chalked this up to Weston having earned a literature degree before her medical degree.

Weston doesn't endear herself to the reader, and she seems less than enthusiastic about her chosen career. In this way she's a bit like Pauline Chen, whose sad book Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality I couldn't finish. Weston comes across as uncomfortable - as a student, as a doctor, as a colleague, as a woman. She's ill at ease with children, with patients, with superiors, with underlings. But she perseveres and becomes a successful surgeon. Along the way there are mistakes and bad decisions. She confesses her own mistakes as readily as she describes those of others (but remember that these stories aren't exactly true.)

Two episodes stand out in this quick read. The first is about her experience assisting at a nose job in a private hospital. Her usual venue is the emergency room at the government-funded National Health hospitals. Before the operation she feels that she will be wasting her time doing cosmetic surgery when she should be using her skills and experience saving lives. But the luxurious surroundings of the private hospital, the calm atmosphere of scheduled, rather than emergency, surgery, even the deferential attitude of the receptionist, seduce her. She ends the chapter convinced that rich people are as entitled to their nose jobs as poor people are entitled to their life-saving surgeries.

The other episode is of the fictional Aidan, a patient who sees Weston about getting a nose job, but during the initial interview with her, admits that he wants to "be a girl." Witnessing this breakthrough of honesty made Weston admit to herself that her commitment to being a surgeon was not very strong. This part rings true, and explains the uneasiness in both her attitude and her writing. As a literary device, it's very effective.

Although I was slow to warm to Direct Red, I like it more as I think about it. It is a useful antidote to the endless stories of heroic surgeons who know exactly what to do. This book is painfully realistic - doctors make mistakes, doctors can't decide, doctors don't like some patients, the National Health Service in Britain is brilliant in theory and sadly inadequate in reality. And sometimes, actually quite often considering the odds, the doctors get it right and save a life.
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on 8 April 2011
As other reviewers haved written, this is an account of the training and the nitty-gritty of a surgeon's life. No gory details are spared and there are bizarre moments - such as trying to prevent a patient's removed and squirming intestines from falling off a table... And although Ms Weston gives a full description of the lengthy and careful training that is required before the surgeon starts to cut into living flesh, she also reports on fully fledged surgeons who through ignorance, laziness and incompetence fail to do what is best for the patient. Perhaps the question that Ms Weston illumines best is the delicate balance required between professional detachment and human compassion. She is a wonderful example of that balance. To any potential reader I would say "Do not be put off by hearing that the book is full of gory details". Read it and be thankful that there are men and women who give up years of their lives to the arduous learning of some of the most complicated and complex skills practised by human beings. I rate this short book highly and am sure that before long I shall want to read it again.
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on 13 November 2009
A female surgeon in training myself, I find this book very unrealistic. Also the main character seems very cold and distant, it seems that she has to prove something, and does not really like the job. She does not seem very nice to herself nor her patients. So save yourself the effort and time of reading this book, there are a lot of other books in this category worth reading!
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