The Doctor’s Daughter is an exceptionally well researched novel exploring the early years of psychiatry, friendship, betrayal and mental illness. It gives a fascinating insight into the role of women, particularly intelligent women, in the 1920s. Vanessa Matthews writing is detailed and atmospheric, giving you a real sense of Vienna in the early 20th Century.
Marta is a fascinating though contradictory character. She is very clever with ambitions of running a children’s medical facility but has low self-esteem and is very much under the influence of her father. Women may have the vote and be becoming more independent in 1920s Vienna but in her household, her psychiatrist father is still the one in charge. Marta has been a bit of a project to him throughout her life as she has grown up without the influence of her mother. He has kept her apart from her sisters and in fact quite isolated from the world. He uses her as an example in some of his lectures and she seems to submit to this willingly, allowing his psychiatrist friends to poke and prod and examine. For all her intelligence, Marta was quite infuriating and in some ways seems to verify her father’s opinions that all women are basically incapable of anything other than being looked after. She makes some very bad choices, especially when it came to her working and personal relationship with Dr Leopold Kaposi, a truly horrible, unlikeable character.
Rather unexpectedly, Marta becomes friends with Elise, a recently qualified paediatrician who, as a woman, is struggling to find work in her chosen field. Elise seems to offer Marta the chance to finally escape her father’s influence and the opportunity to break out on her own. Elise is one of the more likeable characters in the novel. She is strong and determined and even when Marta let hers down, she stands by her. Elisa has her own secrets though, including a connection to Marta which isn’t revealed until nearer the end.
This is quite a dark novel with some disturbing issues covered – control, self harm, sexuality, mental abuse. There are quite a few unexpected twists including one near the end which, not surprisingly when you find out what it is, sends Marta spiralling into a very dark place mentally.
With its dark subject matter, this isn’t a book that you might say you ‘enjoy’ but it is a compelling and intriguing read and one I am glad I had the opportunity to read. For all its darkness, the ending offers the possibility of a happier future for Marta and Elisa.
My thanks to the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The Doctor’s Daughter was published on 23rd June and you can find buying links below.
A prominent psychiatrist’s daughter realises insanity can be found much closer to home when she unlocks secrets from the past that threaten to destroy her future. It’s 1927, women have the right to vote and morals are slackening, but 23 year old Marta Rosenblit is not a typical woman of her time. She has little connection with her elder sisters, her mother has been detained in an asylum since Marta was born and she has spent her life being shaped as her father Arnold’s protégé. She is lost, unsure of who she is and who she wants to be. Primarily set in Vienna, this dark tale follows her journey of self-discovery as she tries to step out of her father’s shadow and find her identity in a man’s world. Her father’s friend Dr Leopold Kaposi is keen to help her make her name, but his interest is not purely professional and his motivations pose greater risks that she could possibly know. Marta’s chance encounter in a café leads to a new friendship with young medical graduate Elise Saloman, but it soon turns out that Elise has some secrets of her own. When Marta’s shock discovery about her family story coincides with her mother’s apparent suicide, Marta can’t take anymore. None of the people she has grown to love and trust are who they seem. Her professional plans unravel, her relationships are in tatters and her sanity is on the line – and one person is behind it all.