I have just finished reading ‘A Fortunate Man’ – literally fifteen minutes ago – and did a quick internet search as I wanted to find out whether others felt about it as I did. As an ordinary reader with no medical connections I felt that I was being made to feel inadequate, that I should have a great deal more knowledge of philosophy before I should allow myself to read it. I think quite genuinely that the unadorned story of his life among his community, although a very common subject, would have told us a great deal more about this dedicated doctor.
I suppose that what came over to me was that the book was far more about John Berger than it was about Dr Sassall. I wonder whether the reader is supposed to acknowledge Berger’s superior intellect, particularly when one compares it to the low-brow status of the local hoi polloi. My impatience with John Berger reached a crescendo when I first realised how he despised the local people, how he suggested that a visit to the nearest town, or heaven forbid, to London, might be the highlight of their dull, plodding lives! The use of the generic description ‘foresters’ made me see red, reminding me of Hardy’s ‘The Woodlanders’.
No, all-in-all I closed the book with a feeling of anger, a feeling that Dr Sassall had been used by Berger as a vehicle for his own knowledge, his own views. Cynically, I wondered if this had anything to do with Sassall’s subsequent suicide! But having said that, there were many passages which I thoroughly enjoyed and seeking out one to copy into my book of quotations I chose ‘The privilege of being subtle is the distinction between the fortunate and the unfortunate’. It’s also fair to say that Berger did successfully convey to me the dedication and single-mindedness of the local family doctor and that alone would make the book worth the read.
As a keen amateur photographer however, I really couldn’t appreciate Jean Mohr’s photography. Some of the images did successfully illustrate the text – I particularly liked the out of focus figure leaving the consulting room on shown on page 52, which I felt put over well the comings and goings of all these anonymous people. Otherwise I found his pictures dull and uninspiring, the sort of ‘rule-breaking’ that only a famous photographer could get away with!