Oxygen is a medical novel based around the branch of anaesthesia, putting people to sleep before operations and giving epidurals etc. Marie Heaton is an anaesthetist at First Lutherean Hospital in Seattle, Washington and is at the top of her career and thoroughly enjoying her job. She's a highly regarded doctor but her reputation is about to be called into question when a child whom Marie anaethetises dies on the operating table and all signs point to Marie being at fault. Is everything as it seems in the case, or is Marie merely a scapegoat?
Aside from reading all of Jodi Picoult's work, I tend not to digress from the genre of women's fiction, but when I read the synopsis for this book on Amazon, it sounded like something I would really enjoy, and would be different as well. I haven't read any medical fiction before, so I hoped that the language used within the book wouldn't be too technical and difficult to understand but Cassella has cleverly balanced the use of medical and layman's language throughout the novel and I had no problems in understanding any of the medical terminology used.
What interested me was the fact that Carol Cassella is actually an anaesthesiologist herself, so I did wonder how much of the book would perhaps be based on stories she had heard from hospitals herself, or from colleagues. I also liked the fact that all the medical knowledge included in the book would be true, all facts regarding anaesthesiology would be accurate and true to real life and consequently, although a work of fiction, there would be some elements of the real practice of medicine within the book.
The story itself was incredibly interesting and also very emotional as well. Because the main crux of the story involves the death of a young child, the start of the book can be quite hard to read, and as a parent it did really strike a chord with me and I found it particularly difficult. But Cassella approached the whole issue with such compassion and feeling for both parties involved that it was delicately done and not at all brash for the reader. It is clear that these scenes were written with care and emotion, and this translates into how well it comes across when you read the story.
The main theme of the story is the legal case involving Marie, the hospital at which she works, and the mother of the deceased child. It was very interesting to read how a medical legal case unfolds, and exactly the amount of detail required in such cases. I find it difficult to comprehend that medical professionals would be sued for doing their job but in America this is a common practice in such cases. But the way a respected doctor can be trashed with just a few words and actions is amazing, and I really felt for Marie throughout the book. It is clear that she is totally passionate about her job, and the case has shaken her confidence so badly, and for this you really feel for her.
The author does manage to balance the medical with Marie's personal life as well. We are party to her thinking involving the case, her colleagues, her ex-lover and colleague Joe Hillary and her troubled family as well. Marie does go to stay with her sister and her family, and there we see a different side to her which was a nice change of pace for the reader. I really enjoyed these scenes, although at times I did feel it went on a tad too long and I was wanting to get back to the case again! But this balance allows both the exploration of her professional relationships, and personal ones, and I enjoyed the depth in which the author has written about both of these.
I really loved this book, and I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy reading medical fiction, fans of Jodi Picoult's novels, and in fact anyone who just wants a really good read. I found myself reading the book in large chunks as I wanted to find out what was going to happen with the case, and by the time I got to the shocking ending, I was totally gutted that it had finished. The medical world fits into the book perfectly with a great lead character whom you instantly warm to, and want to fight for throughout the book. The first person narrative from Marie allows you to dive into her world, her thoughts and feelings and takes you right into the action of the operating room. A fascinating and at times emotional read with a breath-taking ending. Fantastic.
ISBN: 978-1416556107. Published by Simon and Schuster in October 2008. The hardback contains 288 pages. It is available on Amazon for £11.21.
This review has previously appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk.
Thank you for reading!