Do No Harm by Carol Topolski

Carol Topolski’s first novel was called Monster Love. It was extraordinary. Dark. Disturbing. Flawed. But still extraordinary.

And so when I saw Do No Harm, her second novel I was torn. I was intrigued, but I was also a little scared.

In the end, of course, I had to pick it up. I found a very different book, but those four words still applied.

Dark. Disturbing. Flawed. Extraordinary.

Do No Harm is the story of a doctor.

Virginia Denham is a doctor at the very top of her profession: she is a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology in a big London hospital.

Her patients were reassured by her interest and understanding, and by her professionalism.

Her colleagues and her staff were equally impressed by her professionalism, and by her intelligence and skill.

But she had a secret life, and she guarded her privacy ferociously.

A stunning opening chapter revealed a model professional, and a deeply flawed and disturbed woman. An accident waiting to happen.

The chapters that followed moved backwards and forwards through time to build a detailed picture of Virginia’s difficult life.

She was an extraordinary character: complex and frighteningly real.

I wanted to understand that character, to know what made her, and the suspense was palpable.

In the end something did go wrong. And it was devastating.

I’m deliberately holding back details.

Because this is a novel driven by characters rather than plot. And to tell any more than I have would, I think, be telling too much.

A disturbing story of a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology is not for everyone, and I half wished that I hadn’t picked it up.

The writing, the characterisation, the suspense – so much in this book was brilliant. I had to keep reading; I had to know.

I just felt that the balance was a little off: the balance of plot and character.

A flaw, but not a fatal flaw.

Because I really can’t think of another author who deals with such difficult subject matter with such insight and intelligence.

And now I am torn between pushing such dark books away and wondering what Carol Topolski will write next …

9 responses

  1. I picked up on Carol Topolski when her first book was listed for the Orange prize a couple of years ago. This is her second book and it’s only just out in paper back. She’s maybe a little too dark for the mainstream, but she does what she does very well and so if that’s what you like her books are certainly worth seeking out.

    • At the risk of repeating myself, this is dark, but if you can deal with the Carol Topolski is very good at what she does.

  2. I’d use the same words to describe Monster Love. I haven’t read Do No Harm, but I still want to, despite the flaws. She is such an interesting author. I wonder if her books wouldn’t be as good if they were flawless?

    • Possibly not. She is better at ideas and psychology than plotting, so while I would like a little more plot maybe that would obscure what she does best.

  3. Pingback: Review: Carol Topolski – Do No Harm « crimepieces

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