I really loved The Physician’s Daughter, the new novel by award winning novelist Martha Conway. Yes, I love historical fiction and as this novel is set in the aftermath of the American Civil War, I think that may be part of the reason why I loved it so much. But I don’t think that’s the entire reason. It is also a novel about a pioneering woman fighting the patriarchal social norm of the time, and as a feminist, I believe this also enhanced my love of the book. But yet again I don’t think that is the entire reason.
This is the first Martha Conway novel I have ever read and I found her writing style so engaging, full of compassion and poignancy as she explored the impact of the civil war on individuals, families and society. This is a novel that completely captivated and moved me. It is also a character driven novel and if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you will know I’m a massive fan of character driven novels. In fact I really missed the characters days after I finished reading this beautiful book.
Set in the north of America in the 1860s just after the end of the Civil War, The Physician’s Daughter is the story of Vita, a determined 18 year-old set on becoming a doctor just like her father. However her father, refusing to accept how intelligent Vita is and disdainful of the abilities of all women, refuses to entertain the idea. Rather he is determined to arrange a marriage for Vita. I feel that her father is so caught up in his plan, he doesn’t really care who he marries Vita off to. At times I found this element of the story quite unsettling.
Vita however formulates her own plan when she encounters Jacob, a young war veteran. Together they come up with ‘Our nefarious agreement,’ as Jacob refers to it; their own arranged marriage in which Vita’s dowry will pay for her study to become a doctor as well as set Jacob up in business. Yet their plan goes awry with Vita finding herself all alone in the modernising city of Cleveland questioning her life-long dreams.
As well as exploring female perseverance and the role of women in 19th century American society, The Physician’s Daughter delves into the true impact of war on a society. This is portrayed through Jacob suffering from ‘the shakes’ which we now understand as post traumatic stress disorder. Conway also portrays it through the death of Vita’s brother and how each family member grieves differently. This aspect of the novel is subtle but so raw.
The Physician’s Daughter is a powerful novel yet so easy to read. It completely consumed me for a whole weekend. I know it’s a cliché but I really couldn’t put it down.
Published in the UK on Thursday 3 March, 2022, The Physician’s Daughter is available now in hardback, eBook and Audio.
Thank you to Tracy Fenton from Compulsive Readers for inviting me to the blog tour of this unforgettable read. Thank you also to Zaffre for my gifted advance copy.
To follow the blog tour, please see below.