Direct Red : A Surgeon's Story, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


How does it feel to hold someone's life in your hands?

What is it like to cut into someone else's body? What is it like to stand by, powerless, while someone dies because of the incompetence of your seniors?

How do you tell a beautiful young man who seems perfectly fit that he has only a few days left to live?

Gabriel Weston worked as a surgeon in the big-city hospitals of the twenty-first century; a woman in a world dominated by Alpha males.

Her world was one of disease, suffering and extraordinary pressure where a certain moral ambiguity and clinical detachment were necessary tools for survival.

Startling and honest, her account combines a fierce sense of human dignity with compassion and insight, illuminating scenes of life and death the rest of us rarely glimpse.

Direct Red won the 2010 PEN/ Ackerley Prize and was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2009.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Biography: general
  • ISBN: 9780099520696

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I picked this up on a whim, out of a bag of incoming books at the shop, because I've rather enjoyed other 'medical memoirs' I've read in the past. I find them fascinating, perhaps because the medical profession is such a world apart - men and women caring for every kind of person in every kind of difficult situation, often at absolutely critical moments in their lives. Gabriel Weston's surgical memoir is definitely the best of the bunch so far, and I can see why it was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award in 2009.Weston is a surgeon in a big-city English hospital. Her book is divided into short, deftly-titled chapters, providing themes for her anecdotes and creating an interesting structure. 'Speed', for example, illustrates the importance of quick thinking and rapid action in saving lives; 'Hierarchy' delves into the power relations of a surgical ward, and 'Children' covers her time in the paediatric emergency room and children's department. Theming each section allows Weston to move around in time and to make important points about the surgical profession without muddling her narrative, and it really worked for me.This is a beautifully written book that rings with the precise and matter-of-fact detail that a surgeon's eye is trained to notice. Weston's disclaimer points out that no one character or situation here is 'true' - but I don't think it really matters, because at the book's heart is a thoroughly authentic and experienced voice. There were some heartbreaking moments and some charming ones, some lyrical descriptions and some blisteringly earthy ones. Far from being frightened by the graphic surgical scenes, I found myself reassured by how much the human body can withstand, and how much a surgical team can do to mend it when it is broken. Highly recommended - though if you're squeamish you should probably give this one a miss!

Also by Gabriel Weston