Book Review – Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

I first heard about this book at the beginning of the 2022 and I was absolutely sold on the blurb. The idea of a romance with a gothicky, medical twist, all set in 1817 Edinburgh was all I needed to know. So, when I saw there was one copy left in my local Waterstones a few weeks ago I couldn’t say no. One of the first aspect of this book which also grabbed me was the cover; I mean look at it. The artwork is so cleverly thought up. At first glance it is a heart, but as you look closer you realise it is a woman, such a beautiful concept!!

The last book I read with gothic vibes was Mexican Gothic, so I was looking forward to sinking my teeth into another gothic style novel, this time set a bit closer to home.

Anatomy: A Love Story is about a young 15-year-old girl called Hazel Sinnott. She is obsessed with learning about the body and medicine and spends her days perusing her father’s old anatomy and philosophy books from his office.

However, this isn’t 2022, this is 1817, an era where the only thing women were allowed to do, especially women in high society such as Hazel was to find a man, marry and have his children. But this is the farthest thing from what Hazel desires. She wants to become a surgeon and will do anything to achieve this. She even goes as far as to dress up in her deceased brother’s clothes and pretend to be a male in order to attend lectures lead by the infamous, Dr Beecham III. However, she is soon discovered and kicked out for being the wrong gender.

After a deal with Dr Beecham is struck, it is agreed she can take the physician’s exam but can no longer attend lectures, The problem is, she can’t pass simply on studying and books. She needs to dissect bodies to truly be able to pass the exam. So, when she happens to meet resurrection man Jack Currer, she realises that her dream could be a reality yet.

This is a story of ambition, of love, loss and of pure determination to battle gender stereotypes of the era. It is an inspirational story of one girl’s plight to overthrow the sexist views and opinions of others and prove that women can do more than just cook, clean and procreate.

One aspect I really enjoyed about the book was the setting. I personally haven’t read any books set in 1817 Scotland and I particularly enjoyed learning more about the era and especially of the Roman fever. This was a disease that got its name from the burst boils on the victim’s back which made blood seep through clothing and look like stab wounds like that of Julius Caesar. This is not a disease we learned about at school; we were taught all about the black plague but this one was new to me and was interesting hearing about how devastating it was in the country.

Although it has the words love story in it, the main love story we follow is Hazel’s love of anatomy and her desire to become a surgeon. Her determination and commitment to achieving her dream is inspirational and brave considering the era this was. Having been practically engaged to her cousin, Bertrand since she was a child, her whole life had been mapped out by her family. But this isn’t what she wants and so she sets off on a journey into a male driven world which is full of danger and disease.

As the story progresses, we find out more about just how deep her love of anatomy runs and the obstacles she must overcome to achieve small steps towards the end goal, her license to become a physician and finally to become a surgeon.

Hazel choked on her tea. “One book? One book? Now you’re being absurd. What if I finish it? Or what if I find it impossibly dull, what then? What am I supposed to read if I either complete the book I brought or I otherwise discover it to be unreadable?

Proof that the plight of reader existed even in the 19th century, I think we can all relate to this problem.

I was also fascinated by the medical procedures and remedies used during this time, and also shocked by some of the operations. Of course, back then there were no squeaky clean, sanitised operating theatres, more often than not theatres were just that, open theatres with benches where bacteria from every audience member collated in the air. It was a risky time to be operated on and life was even worse for the poor, as these hospitals were dirty, loud and you often shared your bed with other patients.

Throughout this story I admired and looked up to Hazel, Not once did she give up on her dream, and each “no” or rejection she got made her all the more determined to succeed to become a surgeon no matter what. She was ready to literally risk her life to achieve her goals and this made her a stubborn, committed but truly inspirational girl.

I have also just found out that a sequel to this novel is currently in the works which I am very excited about as the book ends on a slight cliff-hanger.

If you are looking for a good YA historical fiction/romance with gothic vibes and emotional tales, you need to pick up this book. It is tense, engaging and full of fascinating medical history.

***** – A beautifully written, emotional novel with a backdrop of 19th century Scotland and a girl who refuses to conform to society’s expectations of her. This ticks all the boxes and then some.

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