The Family Doctor
Author: Debra Oswald
Publisher/Year: Allen & Unwin/2021
Paula is a dedicated suburban GP, who is devastated by the murder of a friend and her children by their estranged husband and father. Stacey and the children had been staying with her after fleeing his control, and Paula is haunted by the thought that she couldn’t protect them when they most needed it. How had she missed the warning signs? How had she failed to keep them safe?
Not long after, a patient with suspicious injuries brings her anxious young son into Paula’s surgery. The woman admits that her husband hurts her, but she’s terrified to leave for fear of escalating the violence, and defeated by the consistent failures of the law to help her.
Can Paula go against everything she believes to make sure one woman is saved, one child spared? She isn’t motivated by revenge. She’s desperately trying to prevent a tragedy . . .
A riveting, provocative novel about women’s fury, traumatic grief, new love, deep friendship, and the preciousness of life, The Family Doctor asks the questions: Should you cling to faith in a flawed system, or take control the only way you can? Can a good person justify taking a life to save a life?
Reviewer: Moraig Kisler
The opening scene in The Family Doctor is one of the most brutal and shocking I have read in many years. But from the first few sentences I was hooked and intrigued to last page. The Family Doctor is a psychological thriller that has haunted my thoughts for many days.
Longstanding friends, Paula and Anita are horrified and guilt-ridden following the murder of their close friend Stacey and her two children by an abusive and controlling spouse and father. Paula and Anita are not only traumatised but also angry about the murders. Could they have done more? How better could they have protected their friend and her children?
Hyperaware of violence against women, Paula and Anita react in very different ways. Paula, a GP, troubled and anxious about abused female patients, takes matters into her own hands, resolving the effects of toxic male masculinity permanently.
Anita, a journalist, reports on a court case of a man is accused of pushing his girlfriend from a bridge. The accused has already moved on and his new, pregnant girlfriend attends court every day. When the man is acquitted, Anita pours her fury into a feature newspaper article. When she investigates further, Paula uncovers the accused’s pattern of abuse is being repeated and his new girlfriend is also in peril.
The Family Doctor confronts head-on domestic violence, coercive behaviour and the pattern of toxic male aggression. It is a hard-hitting and disturbing read and touches on the failure of courts and institutions to protect women. The Family Doctor is certainly a novel for our time, mirroring real life events, how women (and children) are still often unsafe in their own homes and workplaces, and how their circumstances are frequently ignored and brushed aside (particularly in light of Brittany Higgins’s appalling treatment).
Debra Oswald has created wonderful characters in Paula and Anita. Their close relationship is touching, their shared grief tragic, but Oswald also highlights how far women will go to protect other women. Her characters are flawed but so very believable. The Family Doctor is a must-read, topical novel, gripping from start to finish.
Brava, Debra Oswald!