Round the Red Lamp

6.21.2011

Round the Red Lamp, Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Round the Red Lamp is not a novel, but a collection of short stories.  Each is somehow connected with doctors and their work, of the late Victorian era; but beyond that, they hold few similarities.  Nostalgia, romance, horror, comedy, science-fiction, realism--the genres vary drastically from story to story, with plots ranging from the heartwarming to the nerve-wracking.  And oftentimes, the reader can only guess at what is Fact and what is Fancy.

The subject of Victorian doctors may sound, at a glance, boring; but I found this book to be a real page-turner and excellent reading (with a couple of exceptions).  I especially loved the "day in the life" stories that seemed firmly based on reality (i.e. "His First Operation", "A Medical Document"), and the hilarious "A False Start", about a young doctor desperate for patients.  "Lot No. 249"--a creepy, Egyptian mummy story set in Oxford--is probably my favorite.  And "A Physiologist's Wife" was another one that stood out to me, such a sad story.

As in the Sherlock Holmes series, Doyle's writing style is particularly powerful in the short story format.  Within a few pages, you can go from disliking a character to liking them; and the action flows naturally, with plenty of witty dialogue and vivid, but efficient, description.  The characters, too, are very life-like, especially for a short story.  I don't know how he does it, but it's genius... 

Recommended for anybody who likes late-Victorian lit.