Get hooked onto Eileen Merriman for some fast, compulsive reading. These are page turners, books for which you need a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. Believe me, Merriman will disturb you enough. Don’t worry about the categorisation, read the YA books, too.
I first dipped into Merriman’s writing with A Trio of Sophies. Young adults must be into pretty dark stuff these days. The main character, Sophie, is a school girl with two other Sophies in her group, but there’s nothing Sweet Valley High about them. Plenty of rocks below those schoolgirl smiles. The main theme is a teacher/pupil power imbalance, a subject that probably could use talking around before giving this to your teenage daughter.
The story has an odd time sequence, counting down from Day 64 back to the day Sophie A goes missing, so you read the result of an action before the event, like someone thinking back. It feels a bit like a cross-examination: What happened? Why did that happen? What caused that? And before then? Then the time dances around a bit to fill in the gaps and wind up the suspense till you’re straining against the pages and unable to put the book down.
Clever stuff. What you think of the ending depends on how you view come-uppence in fiction.
As soon as I finished A Trio I went straight for The Silence of Snow, an adult fiction set in a hospital, again with pretty hard-hitting and difficult themes but the same compulsive readability. This is the story of a first year doctor joining a hospital team. She has a fiancé in a distant relationship who she obviously needs to ditch and a hot anaesthetist on hand who is keen as. It’s pretty straight forward, to start with.
I loved all the hospital scenes and the description of the lives of these young doctors and the impossible work schedules they do. The detail drops in so seamlessly that I googled Merriman and yes, she is a full-time hospital consultant haematologist. Which, if this story is anything to go by, means she works the equivalent of two full time jobs while simultaneously writing many cool books which, with the characters and the twists and the plot development, must surely be at least another full time job and so you can be absolutely sure, when Merriman writes of the pain of junior doctors working seventy-two hours of night shift and turning up in surgery shaky on the scalpel, that she knows exactly what she is talking about.
A doctor once explained to me that the insane hours are not to punish doctors, or weed out the lazy ones, but the only way for them get enough experience to face the extraordinary variety of conditions doctors are required to recognise. Which makes sense, but bloody hell. The stress.
What happens when the stress gets too much, on various levels, is the subject of this book. Like Merriman’s Young Adult story, you think this story is heading one way and then it starts to slide off in uncomfortable direction and you’re stuck and gathering pace until the end.