Visiting Hours: Top 10 Medical Dramas

One of the title characters in my novel Whiskey and Charlie is in a coma. (Don’t panic – that’s not a spoiler – it is revealed on the very first page). As a result there are many scenes set inside the hospital, which got me pondering other books with medical settings or themes. Here are 10 I’m fond of: what would you add to the list?

Joan London’s gorgeous novel The Golden Age is about the friendship with forms between two children in a polio hospital in the 1950s.

In Willy Vlautin’s The Free, a war veteran suffering post-traumatic stress disorder is hospitalised after attempting suicide and one of the narrative threads is the story of his nurse; another are the dreams, memories and hallucinations he has while in the hospital.

John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van is the story of a man who slowly rebuilds his life after a horrifying accident and a long hospital stay as a young man.

The protagonist in AM Homes funny and disconcerting This Book Will Save Your Life is motivated to make sweeping changes to his life after a severe health scare.

In Laura Van Den Berg’s Find Me, thousands of people die from a mysterious epidemic that erases their memory. Meanwhile, in a hospital in Kansas, a group of people thought to be immune undertake a series of tests in the search for a cure.

The Year of Magical Thinking is Joan Didion‘s memoir of the death of her husband and her daughter within a year of each other. She spends so much time at the hospital she buys her own scrubs!

In Natasha Lester’s heart-wrenching novel If I Should Lose You, Camille is an organ transplant nurse whose own daughter is critically ill and in desperate need of her own transplant.

The Marriage Plot is Jeffrey Eugenides novel about a love triangle between three people on the cusp of adulthood, one of whom has a mental illness which eventually lands him in hospital.

Michael Ondaatje’s exquisite novel The English Patient is the story of a mysterious man without an identity who is being treated for severe burns in a makeshift hospital in the Italian countryside after the end of the Second World War.

One of my favourite books of all time, The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett opens with a medical emergency, and features a number of other dashes to the hospital under a variety of circumstances.

6 thoughts on “Visiting Hours: Top 10 Medical Dramas”

  1. Thank you Annabel for the lovely mention of my book. I feel very honoured to be mentioned alongside Joan Didion’s book, which is my favourite book set in a hospital. I must be somewhat hospital obsessed because my next book is set in another hospital – perhaps I’m a frustrated doctor!

  2. Like Didion’s, not a novel and not really ABOUT medical issues, but I love the scene in Angela’s ashes where he is in hospital with I think diphtheria – on his own in a ward – and in the next ward is a young girl on her own with typhoid. (Maybe the illnesses are swapped, I can’t recollect which one McCourt had). Anyhow, these two kids talk to each other from their beds through the walls/doors, but the cranky nurse yells at them and says ‘Diphtheria can’t talk to typhoid”! Really! I’ve never forgotten this. These poor kids, sick and lonely, with a nurse who has no understanding, and yet McCourt can tell it with humour.

    I could think of others but this is the one that popped immediately into my head. I love the Didion, and Ondaatje too.

    1. Oh what a sad story. I don;t remember that scene in the book but I did marvel about McCourt’s ability to see the humour in many awful moments.

  3. How’d you find The Marriage Plot, Annabel? I liked The Virgin Suicides when I read it a few years ago. Maybe it’s time I reread The English Patient, too. I read it in my very early 20s, and can hardly remember it!

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