The Doctor Is Sick
|The Doctor Is Sick|
First edition cover
|Publisher||W. W. Norton (New York, London)|
The Doctor Is Sick is a 1960 novel by Anthony Burgess.
According to his autobiography, Burgess composed the book in just six weeks. He wrote it after his return to England from Malaya in a burst of literary activity that also produced Devil of a State, A Clockwork Orange, The Right to an Answer and several other works.
The "doctor" of the title is Edwin Spindrift, Ph.D., an unhappily married professor of linguistics who has been sent home from Burma to England suffering from a mysterious brain ailment. While Edwin is confined to a neurological ward, undergoing a battery of diagnostic tests, Mrs. Spindrift amuses herself with some disreputable new friends at the surrounding pubs. Sometimes, to Edwin's distress, she sends these friends to keep her husband company during visiting hours, rather than come herself. Most of the novel is a dream sequence: while anesthetised for brain surgery, Edwin's anxiety over his wife and the company she keeps turns into a slightly surrealistic fantasy in which Edwin leaves the hospital and encounters his wife's friends, with whom he has various adventures.
Background and sources
Shortly before he wrote The Doctor Is Sick, the author suffered an obscure mental breakdown that ended his foreign service career. He came back to England convinced he had a brain tumor; he based some of the novel's events on his resulting confinement to London's Neurological Institute.
Burgess's description of life in a hospital ward is particularly vivid, as is his account of the bizarre and sometimes grisly medical tests to which Edwin is subjected. The book is also notable for the variety of English dialects represented: like his protagonist, Burgess was a philologist, and he shows a playful virtuosity in drafting phonetically accurate renditions of lower-class London speech.
The novel's "Doctor Railton", who is in charge of Edwin's case, is a fictionalised version of Sir Roger Bannister, who in real life performed neurological tests on Burgess.