Ultimate Reading Challenge

This is my book review for Dirty Work, by Gabriel Weston. I read this book as part of the Ultimate Reading Challenge: March, an author who is new to you.

Good Reads Description

Nancy Mullion, an obstetrician-gynaecologist whose botched surgery has put a patient in a life-threatening coma, must face a medical tribunal to determine if she can continue to practice medicine. Nancy’s fears about both her patient’s chances for survival and whether she will be “undoctored” are made palpable to the reader. Throughout four weeks of intense questioning and accusations, this physician directly confronts for the first time her work as an abortion provider–how it helps the lives of others but takes a heavy toll on her own. Interweaving memories of Nancy’s English and American childhood and adolescence, Dirty Work creates an emotionally charged portrait of one woman’s life; the telling of seemingly untellable stories sets her free, as it can all women. Gabriel Weston has given us a truly original, courageous, and meaningful novel.


The first thing I feel I should mention is that the key theme of this book is abortions. More specifically, it is written from the point of view of an abortion provider. When I started reading it, I had no idea. It didn’t cause a problem for me, personally, but I feel that the topic is such a sensitive one that it might cause undue distress to someone who picks it up thinking it’s about general surgery only to discover the true nature of its message. (I clearly hadn’t read the Goodreads description when I started reading)

I found the writing itself to be excellent; accessible and engaging. The author flits between current events in the life of the protagonist (Nancy) and memories of previous life-events which have impacted or influenced her emotional and career trajectory as well as her current state of mind.

The story has some intense emotional themes and was disturbing in places. However, I felt that this was powerful and enlightening. Many people are aware of the distress that abortion can cause to those who experience it as a patient: I know I never truly thought about what it might be like for those practitioners who provide this service. As a pro-choice woman, and a mother, I genuinely believe in a woman’s right to control what happens to her body and, ultimately her life. But what would happen if, despite being legal, abortions were unavailable because there were no doctors willing to perform them?

 “A lot of novels are called “brave”, and they aren’t. This one is.” – Lionel Shriver

This book truly opened my eyes to something that is still very much not spoken about. One reviewer described the novel, by author Gabriel Weston, as brave. I agree. It takes courage to openly tackle such a taboo topic and elegance to do it without being confrontational or derogatory.

An additional thought that I had since writing the review

Another aspect of this book is that it considers forgiveness and compassion, not only from external sources (from others) but internally. The results of the tribunal are almost inconsequential in the grander scheme of Nancy’s life: having compassion for herself and her choices (and failures) and forgiving herself seem – to me – more crucial for her future.

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