Book Review ‘Not the life I imagined’ is 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, our narrator, 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 through 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. Not the life Imagined was runner up in the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable Silver Stag Award 2018.
Overall, I really enjoyed this medical crime story. The characters were well constructed, and I could visualize them. Some of them were likable, some loveable, and others pure nasty. They were identifiable though and I do feel that we have met them all in our own journey in life. It does have a lot of ‘chit-chat’ and I was often reminded of ‘A Passage to India’ by E.M. Forester. The many characters and memoir-style pacing took me a while to get used to, but as the story unfolded, I found myself settling into the novel. It is filled with English colloquialisms and cultural ways. The story also gives a clear picture of society in the 1960s, the attitudes regarding women. The novel was seamless, with humor throughout and entertaining. Although a work of fiction, Anne has clearly drawn closely on her own experiences of life as a medical practitioner. I would highly recommend this one for book club reading. There’s a lot to think about, talk about with bite-sized chapters. and I am looking forward to reading her next novel.
Written by a very Scottish author, Anne Pettigrew is talented and that’s for sure. A graduate of Glasgow (Medicine) and Wolfson College, Oxford (Anthropology), she has been a GP, worked in psychiatry, family planning, and sexual health. Anne is also a book reviewer and has contributed medico-political and humorous articles to The Herald, medical newspapers/journals, the Sunday Times/Telegraph, Channel 4 documentaries amongst many others.