Quill & Quire
Claire Holden Rothman’s first novel is loosely inspired by the life of Dr. Maude Abbot (1869-1940), one of Montreal’s first female doctors. Rothman’s narrator is Agnes White, a plain girl with exceptional intelligence. After her father, a disgraced physician, disappears, Agnes and her sister are raised by their grandmother. Luckily, their governess, Miss Skerry, appreciates and encourages Agnes’s interest in science. Undaunted by a male-dominated society, Agnes vows to study at McGill and become a doctor like her beloved father. That she manages to do so is a testament to her strong will and to that of the Montreal matrons who raise money to assist the young woman. Rothman realistically depicts Agnes’s struggle by showing both her tenacity and her self-doubt, and she succeeds in creating a compelling, believable, and immensely sympathetic main character. In addition, Rothman captures a sense of the era’s class distinctions through the book’s language, which is slightly formal. Agnes’s prime area of study is the human heart, which was also her father’s specialty. The physical details of the human heart are juxtaposed with a study of love – the figurative heart – which is something Agnes is far less talented at understanding. Rothman’s narrative skill allows readers to comprehend Agnes’s own heart better than she does. The Heart Specialist
is a fascinating novel that conveys both a sense of history and of the timelessness of human emotions. That Rothman also demonstrates the damage that prejudice can do, and the power of the human spirit in overcoming it, is simply an added bonus.
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"Told with precision, grace, and passion, The Heart Specialist
is a beautiful, moving, utterly captivating novel about a woman who becomes one of Montreal's first female doctors. The writing is striking, the emotion immediate, the medical detail fascinating and the story compelling from the first page to the last. Claire Holden Rothman deserves a wide audience for this astounding literary achievement."
, author of Someone Knows My Name
"I can pay a book no higher compliment than to say I didn't want it to end. With The Heart Specialist
, I rationed my reading, permitting myself only a few chapters at a sitting so as to savour the writing and the story."
"[A]bly researched and written, with never an ungraceful sentence."
—Toronto Globe and Mail
“Rothman has provided insight and perhaps gratitude in readers for those who paved the way.”
“Quietly captivating, the tone of The Heart Specialist
is reminiscent of English classics like Jane Eyre
... a tale of persistence, of dreams realized and dashed—it delivers on soft cat feet, and leaves one feeling satisfied and contemplative.”
“Brilliant first novel ... Rothman’s heartbreaking portrait of this trailblazer will long linger with the reader.”
, Starred Review
"Based on the life of one of Canada's pioneering female physicians, Rothman's novel paints an arresting portrait of an indomitable yet vulnerable young woman."
“An epic that effortlessly navigates both complex medical concepts and the most basic human emotions…The Heart Specialist
is a feminist-toned historical narrative that’s refreshingly unsentimental.”
“Rothman clearly admires this early feminist pioneer, who overcomes tremendous male prejudice to establish a distinguished career in her own right.”
“Writing with empathy and conviction, Rothman takes us through Agnes's pioneering journey.... Reading this book left me with immense respect for the brave women who were the first to break out of their strictures.”—Reading the Past
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