Sparse prose fleshes out The Good Doctor, a tale of hope and despair, love and rejection, political triumph and defeat in the shifting realities of the steppes of a post-apartheid South Africa. Frank Eloff, burnt-out husband, physician, and human being, greets the new, squeaky-clean idealistic doctor, Laurence Waters, on his first day as staff physician. Although they share a lack-luster bedroom and medical duties in an under-utilized clinic passed over by the new political regime, they live in two different psychic worlds. Frank’s cynical assessment of Laurence is: “he won’t last.”
In some ways the two major characters are mirrored sides of the same person: the honorable and the tawdry, the optimistic and the discouraged, the idealist and the realist. They sleep with the same woman, patronize the same seedy watering hole in the worn-out town, and even symbolically exchange beds in their cluttered room.Yet they represent perspectives from two different windows on life. In the end one will leave and the other will have a changed viewpoint.
Author Damon Galgut’s style is austere, yet he draws for the reader a rich landscape of the environment, the political horizon, and of the inner “climate” of his characters. The book is short, slightly over two hundred pages, but it engenders lingering discomfort in the reader. Evoking other literature about those who go from their accustomed civilized places to escape or to do good, this little volume tells a fictitious and somewhat discouraging story of a real situation that is probably outside the experience of many who will pick it up. Not a happy “beach book” but a good read.