#aww2020 · 2020 Reviews · contemporary fiction

Book Review: Going Under by Sonia Henry

Title: Going Undergoing under small

Author: Sonia Henry

Published: September 3rd 2019

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Pages: 416

Genres:  Fiction, Contemporary

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 4 stars

Dr Katarina ‘Kitty’ Holliday thought once she finished medical school and found gainful employment at one of Sydney’s best teaching hospitals that her dream was just beginning. The hard years, she thought, were finally over.

But Kitty is in for a rude shock. Between trying to survive on the ward, in the operating theatre and in the emergency department without killing any of her patients or going under herself, Kitty finds herself facing situations that rock her very understanding of the vocation to which she intends to devote her life.

Going Under is a rare insight into the world of a trainee female medic that takes an unflinching look at the reality of being a doctor. It explores the big themes – life, death, power and love – through the eyes of Dr Holliday as she loses her identity and nearly her mind in the pressure-cooker world of the hospital. But it is also there that Kitty might find her own redemption and finally know herself for the first time. Darkly funny, sexy, moving and shocking, Going Under will grip you from the opening page and never let you go.

Review:

Doctor Sonia Henry has drawn on her experiences as a first year trainee doctor into her first novel. Going Under is an astute and penetrating tale, that strikes at the very heart of our country’s health care system. It is shrewd, entertaining and attention grabbing, which allows the audience to see how flawed the medical profession truly is, through the trials of Henry’s lead, Dr Katarina (Kitty) Holliday.

Going Under is a full length novel penned by Sydney based Doctor Sonia Henry. It was inspired by the anonymous article published in 2017, under the title ‘There is Something Rotten Inside the Medical Profession’. This scathing article was embraced by a wide audience range, providing a sense of relief for many in the industry who had experienced the same issues the article outlined. Within the article issues of suicide, bullying, sexual misconduct, blackmail, abuse of power and unfair work hours were raised. Going Under is an open letter to those who are have previously experienced these issues in the profession, along with those who may be currently facing these conditions.  What is clear from Henry’s novel is that this world is incredibly tough and soul destroying. There are moments of clarity, semblance, humour, astonishment and utter despair, all told with informed insight.

Going Under is a book that seemed to perplex me. I was encouraged to read this one based on the positive reviews and recommendations I had received from my valued book friends. I was definitely intrigued by Going Under and I went into this book with a sense of enthusiasm. For the most part I found great value in this book and its intention. However, I struggled with the writing style which seemed more like a memoir, rather than a fictional novel told from the first person point of view of the lead trainee doctor in this tale. I actually checked the front of the book and I wondered why the author gave herself a different name in the book, but I realised my oversight when I discovered this was a fictional novel!

Anyhow, Going Under is a book that I feel has come at the right time. We are ready to accept the deep flaws in our health system, which includes the treatment of medical professionals and trainee doctors. Henry even includes nurses and paramedics, who are also touched on briefly during the novel. I feel this book has a strong place in our world right now, it opens the gashing wound that it is the failing Australian health care system. I knew we were in trouble, but not that much trouble. From horrific work hours, to the lack of support, a punishing culture, extortion, sexual harassment, depression, bullying, exposure to unsafe situations and the sense of loneliness that pervades Australian society. This is clearly a pressure cooker work environment and it is enough to send anyone over the edge. However, I did feel at times I felt that Henry injected too much dark humour and lightness to a serious set of issues. It did feel like a melodrama at times.

Lead character Katarina (Kitty) Holliday is well drawn.  Kitty is interesting, likeable and you want her to succeed. Supporting her along the way are her flat mates and colleagues, who are a conglomeration of both positive and negative forces in Kitty’s chaotic world. I particularly liked the nicknames of the various key characters in the book, it was an entertaining touch.

On the whole, Going Under is a statement piece and I feel it is a book that has a vital role to play, despite it being a work of fiction.  Going Under is a conversation starter and I do hope this book incites a level of change, to a punishing system that desperately needs overhauling. I will definitely see the next doctor, specialist, or health care professional I encounter with a very different set of eyes and a sense of understanding.

‘I sit at the desk, writing up Sandra’s notes, and wonder what they think of doctors, to give up these intensely personal things so easily. The stethoscope and the scrubs must give me an invisibility cloak of my own. People come in because they’re seeking someone or something to make them feel better. A doctor in a hospital seems like a good answer.’

Going Under by Sonia Henry was published on 3rd September 2019 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Going Under, Sonia Henry, visit here.

*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Going Under is book #19 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Going Under by Sonia Henry

  1. Oh, I must add this one to the TBR list, although it might be hard reading as I already have qualms about visiting doctors I wonder if I’ll steer clear after reading this book? I too thought it was a memoir until I kept reading your review, glad it’s fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to hear this one caught your eye. It sure is an eye opening and different read. It’s more about the treatment of trainee doctors (training, long hours, lack of support, bullying etc) than the patient side so you might be ok. Yes it is fiction, inspired by the author’s experiences.

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      1. Thanks Amanda, yes, I’ll be good to go with this book now that I know it’s not about the patient side at all, I kind of got that from your review but I had to make sure and you gave the perfect reply. A big thumbs up to you 🙂
        I remember many years ago when my sister wanted to be a dental assistant and the dental board member or someone with pull was a total bully to my sister and because of her my sister looked into other careers.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh no, I think the issues raised in this book go right across the medical industry, my friend was saying it is like that in nursing too. So I’m not surprised by your sister’s issues in dentistry. It’s sad really.

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  2. This was a DNF for me, just couldn’t get into it, there were moments of humour but that made the reading worse! Life is too short – that’s what makes the world go around- we are all different 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can see what you mean, life is too short and there are too many books out there! This was also nearly abandoned for me too! I started it in the school holidays and struggled with it for some time. I ended up putting it down for a few weeks and then picked it up again, racing through until the end. I rarely do this, but it seemed to work with this book.

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    1. I enjoyed your review of this title Shelleyrae. I did wonder how close this book was to Sonia’s own experiences and you are right, due to the legal minefield, it is presented in first person fictional form. An eyeopener!

      Liked by 1 person

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