4 out of 4 stars
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McDowell by William Coles is the story of the tumultuous life of a surgeon called Hiram McDowell. He is a prominent and unabashedly self-centered physician. He values prestige and money above all else and pursues them relentlessly. To achieve his goals, he steps on others be they colleagues, friends or even family. This leads to him having a very chaotic personal life. It also gains him enemies who are hell-bent on bringing him down from his self-appointed throne.
This book is divided into two parts. The first part details his life when he is at the height of his glory and the second part follows his fall from grace. In the first half of the book, McDowell is portrayed as a very narcissistic man. He constantly derides others, especially the women in his life. He incessantly judges and mocks women for their appearance. He also has no qualms about using and cheating others for his own gain. However, to the public eye, he is a renowned and respected surgeon. In the second half, he faces a metaphorical earthquake in his life. This sees him land in prison and then become a fugitive when he escapes.
As I read this book, it was clear the author had set out to write the most unlikable character he could. Hiram McDowell to put it simply is the most unpleasant character I have ever come across. This in itself fascinated me greatly, as I was curious to see whether the author would succeed in redeeming him.
The first half of the book was seriously off-putting, but I think the second half redeemed the book. I got a sweet sense of satisfaction watching the character get his comeuppance. It was almost as if the writer was saying karma does exist. The author also managed to give readers some respite by having other characters tell Hiram’s story. Through them, we see his great love for his children, which greatly intrigued me. It reminded me that no human being is black or white, but just different shades of grey. To his children, he was someone who loved them. To everyone else, he was a callous man with no loyalty other than to himself.
McDowell goes on a journey of self-discovery in the second part although the results are ambiguous. I got the sense that he had not remarkably changed but had just adjusted to the circumstances. I was glad the author did not change him into a completely different person as it gave the book a sense of realism. Through his journey, we get to see how circumstances can affect the life of a person. We also get to judge the decisions he made. As human beings, we like thinking we would always do the right thing. However, in this book, we get to ask ourselves what we would have done if we were in his position.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars because the author managed to make me sympathize with a character I utterly detested in the beginning. This book provides excellent material for self-reflection and examination of humanity as a whole. I would recommend this book to lovers of psychological thrillers and those who love stories of a transformation. However, because of the constantly changing perspectives in the first half, this book needs a bit of patience. For some readers, the book might be hard to get through if they do not give the main character some time. As I said in the beginning, he is quite an unpleasant character.
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