Dirty Work by Gabriel Weston

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Dirty Work

Five words from the blurb: abortion, taboo, confronts, truth, tribunal

Before reading My Notorious Life I don’t think I’d read a book with the central theme of abortion, so it was slightly strange to discover another book, published on exactly the same day, covering the same theme. Is this a strange coincidence, or have we reached a point in time where authors finally feel comfortable talking about this emotive subject?

Two years ago I listened to a Radio 4 adaptation of Gabriel Weston’s memoir, Direct Red, and was very impressed. Dirty Work is much slower in pace, but gives the same wonderful insights into the mind of a doctor. 

The book follows Nancy, a gynaecologist, who finds herself performing abortions. One day a routine termination goes horribly wrong and Nancy must take part in disciplinary proceedings so she and her management can understand what happened.

As I was reading the book I was slightly confused as to its purpose; it was only when I finished the final page that I appreciated how clever it was. The book doesn’t look at arguments for or against abortion, instead it looks at things from an entirely new perspective: that of the abortion provider. It made me feel deep empathy for those who perform abortions as they go from performing life saving gynaecological surgery one minute to termination the next. They often hide their profession from friends and family and face persecution from society. There are no easy answers, but any book that asks such difficult questions is well worth reading. 

Julia’s fond of saying I did my first abortion with my eyes half shut. That I never signed up for the events that dominate my life now. It makes her angry that no one ever sat me down and asked explicitly whether I wanted to learn how to perform a termination. And of course I see her point. It is surprising, with all the namby-pamby talk in the medical world these days, the communication skills this, and cultural diversity that, that no such discussion ever took place.

For a book containing such a disturbing theme the writing was surprisingly quiet. The only section containing a graphic description of abortion was right at the end. This passage was written in italics so could easily be avoided by the squeamish or those who don’t want disturbing images in their head, but I felt this section was extremely important and I’m glad I read it. 

Overall, this is an important, thought provoking book. It asks many difficult questions and I recommend it to anyone who’d like an insight into the mind of a gynaecological surgeon. 


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  1. This would really hurt my heart to read. I’m certain of it. BUT I also think it’s an important topic, and I love the idea of a different point of view from the provider’s perspective. Great review, Jackie!

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, Thanks for the kind words. I completely understand why this book could be too much for some, but at least it will open the discussions for others.

  2. stujallen says:

    I not sure this is one for me ,sounds like an interesting insight into this subject but it just isn’t one that appeals overly to me ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, Yes, not for everyone. :-(

  3. Can’t wait to read this one despite its subject matter. Glad it’s up to par.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I look forward to seeing what you think of it.

  4. I ordered this one from the UK because I’m so fascinated with the topic. It just arrived yesterday, and I’m really looking forward to it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, Wow! That is keen! I hope you enjoy it!

  5. kimbofo says:

    I read this book last month (but have only just reviewed it now) and am pleased to see your thoughts echo mine. I thought it was a compelling read, even though the subject matter was dark and oppressive.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kim, Yes, it was a gripping read. Glad you enjoyed it too.


  1. ‘Dirty Work’ by Gabriel Weston | Reading Matters

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