Round the Red Lamp

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.

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