I read Breaking & Mending by Joanna Cannon because I’d loved her previous books, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and Three Things About Elsie. But Breaking & Mending is different – because it’s a memoir.
Before she became an author, Joanna Cannon was a doctor. And she was an unusual doctor in that she’d only gone to medical school in her 30s. Her ambition was to become a psychiatrist, and she achieved that ambition.
I should say at this point that this made the book particularly interesting for me. My own 16 year old son wants to be a psychiatrist and, now that he’s in year 12, we are starting to think seriously about where he wants to study and what he needs to do now to help him get a place at medical school.
Many people have read and enjoyed Adam Kay’s memoir of life as a junior doctor – This is Going to Hurt. While the two books have some things in common, they come across very differently. This is Going to Hurt is certainly thought provoking, but it is also very funny. Breaking & Mending is thought provoking and moving and is very focused on the mental health not just of the patients, but of the doctors.
While she clearly loved being a doctor, Joanna Cannon also experienced fear that she wasn’t good enough and wouldn’t be able to cope. She was at times treated badly by senior doctors, while working in an environment which gave very little thought to the health and wellbeing of its staff. To try to grab a glass of water or a biscuit after 12 hours without food or drink was seen as a sign of weakness. Despite this, there are some wonderful stories of her relationships with patients and the bond of trust she was able to build with them.
At a time when our NHS is so much in the spotlight, it is a book which everyone should read. The NHS may not be perfect, but it is full of people who are working to do their absolute best for their patients.