Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 24, 2008

Dissection (2008), by Jacinta Halloran

dissectionOne of the reasons I give for reading fiction, is that it enables one to see inside the mind of another, to discover ways of thinking and being that one could not otherwise know.  In this remarkable book, Jacinta Halloran depicts the doubts, grief and shame of a doctor charged with medical negligence and I find myself filled with compassion for her character, Dr Anna McBride.

She is so hard on herself!  She has made a mistake, yes, and it is a serious one.  A young athlete has lost his leg because she failed to diagnose his condition early enough; he is suing her and the lawyers have taken over her life.  As mediation looms, she is obsessed by the arguments she predicts will be made.  Was it a preventable error?  Where does her responsibility begin and end?  Doesn’t everyone make mistakes?  Is she a good doctor?  Were her reasons for choosing medicine honorable? Does she deserve to be punished?

After twenty years of dedicated work, wanting to serve the needs of others, she now finds herself making clinical decisions through the prism of protecting herself from further criticism.   She is emotionally exhausted and not really able to care as she once did.  This, it seems to me, is the unintended consequence of attacks on the professions; it makes them wary, defensive ,  abstracted – and at risk of further malpractice….

Her preoccupation with these moral and philosophical issues necessarily affects her family life.  As anyone who has ever been involved in litigation knows, the arguments swirl around in the mind without respite.  She refuses counselling, even as she berates herself for putting her needs first instead of her patients.  She begins to question herself as a mother…yes, she does all the things that mothers do, but does she love her children enough?  Does she always put them first?  Her husband fails to stand by her; he’s having a dalliance with a colleague.

Dissection is written in the present tense, which adds to the sense of impending doom. As it builds to its shocking climax, it becomes impossible to put the book down.  I am not surprised that it won the Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards in 2007, and it well deserves its place in the 2008 State Library of Victoria’s Summer Reading Shortlist.

I may have to revise my Top Tens, this is an outstanding work of fiction.

Author: Jacinta Halloran
Title: Dissection
Publisher: Scribe Publications
Source: Personal copy


  1. I like the sound of this one Lisa. In fact I am going to suggest this for my F2F bookgroup when it is my turn to nominate a title as it would make a good discussion book going by your ‘excellent ‘ review =)


  2. Oh yes, I can imagine the discussion! There’s a subplot I didn’t mention above, about how the doctor herself is a victim of negligence which would also generate rich debate!


  3. […] (2008, see my review) was Halloran’s debut: it tells the story of a doctor in personal and professional crisis […]


  4. […] her debut novel Dissection (2008) in a bookshop.  I thought it was an outstanding novel (see my review and a Sensational Snippet) so I was prepared to be perhaps disappointed by the follow-up, but […]


  5. […] ended up doing a Masters degree, and says she would never have written her first novel Dissection (see my review) without the structure and the deadlines of the course.  The inspiration for the book – […]


  6. […] Jacinta Halloran, also a doctor, wrote a very fine book called Dissection.  It also illuminates the personal cost to doctors accused of medical […]


  7. […] about the pressure on doctors to be perfect: see my reviews of Dustfall by Michelle Johnston and Dissection by Jacinta Halloran).  There is a junior doctor too, who becomes a victim of this situation, and (inevitably) there is […]


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