A darkly humorous, thought-provoking story of Scottish medical students in the sixties, a time of changing social and sexual mores. None of the teenagers starting at Glasgow University in 1967 live the life they imagine.
Beth Slater is shocked at how few female medical students there are and that some people, such as Conor Towmey, think they shouldn’t be there at all. Devastated by a close friend’s suicide, Beth uncovers a revealing diary and vows to find the person responsible for her death. Struggling with the pressure of exams while supporting friends though disasters, Beth charts the students’ changing, often stormy, relationships over two decades in a contemporary backdrop of Free Love, the Ibrox Football Disaster, the emergence of HIV and DNA forensics. In time, indiscretions surface with dire consequences for some.
In Not the Life Imagined, retired medic Anne Pettigrew has written a tale of ambition and prejudice laced with sharp observations, irony and powerful perceptions that provide a humorous and compelling insight into the complex dynamics of the NHS fifty years ago.
You are young, about to embark on the next chapter of your life at university yet you have chosen one of the hardest subjects, medicine. So what you might have thought, no problem, skip seamlessly in, work hard and emerge five years later as a doctor. Except there was a problem, it was 1967 and Beth was a woman, one of only a handful who dared to enter such a male dominated environment.
From the very beginning you knew it was going to be hard and Pettigrew didn’t hold back as she showed men at their worst, women ignored, grouped together, shoved in a corner and treated as their own personal playgrounds, ripe for the odd grope and sexual encounter. They had to work so much harder, their skills tested at every corner, the old guard resistant to change, as consultants favoured men, gave them the plum jobs.
From the start you wanted Beth to succeed but Pettigrew meandered skillfully into life in her social group, the mixture of characters wide and diverse, their friendships tested to the upper most limits. Beth was our eyes and ears as we watched their relationships, their jealousys, as the wide class and financial divide threatened everything they were working towards.
Conor was one character that stood out, a man full of self importance, the expectation that it was his right to become a well renowned, rich consultant, and you read in utter frustration as he used his connections, the old boy network, and married to gain that upper hand. I seriously wanted to punch him, and by the end I detested him so much more than when I first met him, so angry did Pettigrew’s portrayal make me feel.
Others battled depression, mental illness, suicide and you did wonder who would be left as you neared the end. Pettigrew didn’t make it easy, she made us work, she made us think, provoked questions as we compared what we have today with the past. It did make me realise how far we have moved on since those times, women more successful and prevalent in the medical world. We still have a similar class and financial divide, that is something that I don’t think will ever change, but the ladder to success both professionally and financially is maybe that little bit easier.
The city of Glasgow, and it’s imposing cold university and hospital buildings were all used to great advantage by Pettigrew, adding to the sometimes oppressive, taut and tense feelings of the characters.
Politics, sexism aside The Life Not Imagined was a fantastic story, wonderfully written, with a narrative full of emotion, the educational and historical themes perfectly balanced and seemlessly interwoven.
I would like to thank Ringwood Publishing for a copy of The Life Not Imagined to read and review and to Damp Pebbles Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
A graduate of Glasgow (Medicine) and Wolfson College, Oxford (Anthropology), Anne Pettigrew has been a GP, worked in psychiatry, family planning/sexual health, lecturing, patient/women doctors pressure groups, BMA Media relations, Homeopathy, acupuncture, an EEC Committee, book reviewing and journalism (medico-political and humorous articles to The Herald, Doctor newspaper etc: a Channel 4 Despatches). Retiring from practice, she became a wedding planner for a charity theatre, before starting Creative Writing classes and mentoring at Glasgow University. She is now a member of Garnethill critical writer’s forum and has won short story and article trophies in Greenock Writer’s Club. Not the life Imagined was runner up in the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable Silver Stag Award 2018. The book was originally called No Sinecure, a title abandoned as no one under 35 in any class or group she joined knew what ‘sinecure’ meant (though some suggested it was apt, the book featuring ‘sin’ in those who ‘cure!’) Two more books are underway. Anne has two grown up children and lives with her husband in North Ayrshire.