AJ Cronin -The Citadel (1937)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
In recent years, Jed Mercurio’s novel Bodies and its subsequent television adaptation have provided shocking insight into the mental and physical strain suffered by overworked medical staff, including consequent fatal lapses in judgement. Rewind some 70 years, and discover AJ Cronin graphically blowing the whistle on the corrupt medical establishment in his sweeping autobiographical novel The Citadel.
The novel’s opening segment introduces the protagonist Andrew Manson, a young and idealistic Scottish medical graduate from a lower-class background reporting for duty in his first job. Initially, Manson comes across as an early James Herriot, the fish-out-of-water enthusiast who gradually gains the trust and respect of his patients in a small Welsh mining town with his solicitous methods, eschewing ineffectual medicine for dietary and sanitation improvements. Yet, as the story progresses, Manson’s career develops, eventually transferring the doctor and his wife Christine to London where he encounters ingrained corruption on every level of his vocation. Ultimately, Manson’s resistance to the baseness of ‘the Citadel’ (his mocking name for the medical establishment) breaks down, and his professional ethics start to wane in favour of easy money and a comfortable life.
Cronin’s novel – particularly the fraught final stages – still has the pace and power to compel. One inhibition for modern readers is that Manson’s wife Chris is something of a one-dimensional cipher, a goody-two-shoes schoolteacher whose vain attempt to encourage her husband to follow a virtuous path is contrasted with the lack of honesty Manson encounters from jaded medical practitioners. Conversely, the book’s greatest strength is Cronin’s unflinching willingness to depict man’s fallibility, brilliantly embodied in his hero.
View the complete list of the 100 Best Scottish Books.