Histories by Sam Guglani review – linked tales from the world of medicine

An oncologist’s meditation on power, humility and empathy and what it means to be a doctor

The catechism of health/ill-health – age, height, weight, blood pressure, what seems to be the matter – otherwise known as taking a patient’s history, is at the centre of medicine. However hi-tech or interventionist the eventual outcome, this conversation must always come first, and a doctor’s skill resides both in understanding the physical implications of the answers, and in intuiting any mental and emotional troubles that may lie beneath and between them. All life is here, as the long list of doctor-writers, from Avicenna to Chekhov, Bulgakov to Atul Guwande, have always known; Sam Guglani’s specific insight is to locate it in the idea of that first series of questions.

Histories is, therefore, a novel, but a novel structured as a series of linked histories, where each chapter is told from the point of ...