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Review: "The Doctor's Dilemma" by Hesba Stretton

The Doctor's Dilemma may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog.

Here is a little-known yet excellent book we've dug up from the archives. Recommended by a site visitor, we knew nothing of this author with a strange name before. It turns out Hesba Stretton is a pseudonym, her real name being Sarah Smith, and she wrote primarily children's books. Like some other children's fiction writers we've published (Frances Hodgson Burnett, E. Nesbit, L.M. Montgomery), Stretton also ventured into adult fiction. And like those other authors, (if this book is anything to go by) her adult fiction is very good.

First published in 1872, the story is that of Olivia who, as the curtain opens, has been locked in a room, threatened, and is frantic to escape. She sees her chance, takes it, and her escape takes her to the smallest of the Channel Islands named Sark. There she lives peacefully, under an assumed identity, until she has an accident and is in need of a doctor. Dr Martin Dobree comes from a neighboring island to help and is instantly taken with her. Thus unfolds various circumstances that delve into Olivia's past and what will become of her future.

Told in alternating narratives--first from the point of view of Olivia, then Martin Dobree, and finally back to Olivia--we never get a fully omniscient idea of what is going on at any given point. The second part, when Martin Dobree takes over the narrative, is where most of the mystery starts to unfold. The story stagnates at this point slightly, going into various minor characters and their lives, but Stretton makes up for it in character development. She goes so completely into Martin's mind and motives that in the third part, back to Olivia's narrative, it is all the more heartbreaking to view his actions and reactions from her point of view.

Culturally, this book is significant for bringing to light a part of the world not normally shown in books--that of the British Channel Islands. What a fascinating part of the world this is, with mingling Norman and British history. I found it interesting that when Martin makes a visit to rural Normandy in the book, he is surprised to find that the peasants there speak the same French Patois that he does. It is an amazing setting for a novel, tinged with mystery and romance, highly recommended!

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