I’m delighted to have read and enjoyed ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ by Vanessa Matthews.
THE DOCTOR’S DAUGHTER. A prominent psychiatrist’s daughter realises insanity can be found much closer to home when she unlocks secrets from the past that threaten to destroy her future.
It’s 1927, women have the right to vote and morals are slackening, but 23 year old Marta Rosenblit is not a typical woman of her time. She has little connection with her elder sisters, her mother has been detained in an asylum since Marta was born and she has spent her life being shaped as her father Arnold’s protégé. She is lost, unsure of who she is and who she wants to be.
Primarily set in Vienna, this dark tale follows her journey of self-discovery as she tries to step out of her father’s shadow and find her identity in a man’s world. Her father’s friend Dr Leopold Kaposi is keen to help her make her name, but his interest is not purely professional and his motivations pose greater risks than she could possibly know.
Marta’s chance encounter in a café leads to a new friendship with young medical graduate Elise Saloman, but it soon turns out that Elise has some secrets of her own.
When Marta’s shock discovery about her family story coincides with her mother’s apparent suicide, Marta can’t take anymore. None of the people she has grown to love and trust are who they seem. Her professional plans unravel, her relationships are in tatters and her sanity is on the line – and one person is behind it all.
I’m not entirely certain what I was expecting when I began reading ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’, but it certainly wasn’t the complex and androgynous Marta, who is as far removed from a simpering heroine of the chick lit style historical fiction I thought I was about to read as one can imagine. The daughter of a prominent psychiatrist, Marta has been manipulated and shaped by her father with far reaching consequences and this is an expertly researched and highly intelligent novel that explores how we become who we are.
I found many of the characters very dark and actually quite menacing. Marta is almost (although there are other contenders as readers will find out!) her own worst enemy and watching her mental state as a reader or observer can be quite uncomfortable whilst simultaneously utterly fascinating.
‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ is not an easy holiday pool side read, but it is a hugely satisfying narrative and an extremely affecting one. It’s quite hard to read it without looking a bit more closely at the influences on your own life. The plot does not shy away from difficult scenarios and this is what makes ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ so fascinating. I found Marta’s life scarily possible and believable.
I found the writing style fitted the era perfectly and the attention to detail enabled me to understand totally what it was like to be a woman in Marta’s situation.
The whole novel is thoroughly absorbing and thought provoking. Indeed, after I’d read it I had a few questions and Vanessa kindly agreed to answer them for me.
Q: Much of the plot is set in Vienna. How familiar with it are you and did you refer to historical maps and documents to ensure authenticity?
A: I think authenticity is very important to any novel and I made use of as many resources as I could including historical maps, political and cultural documents from the period and other archive materials. Where possible I ensured that any landmarks, important buildings and street names existed, or were at least based on similar ones.
Q: How much research did you need to do, and where did you do it, to ensure such historical and medical accuracy?
A: Once I had the bones of the story written down, I spent a lot of time researching everything from fashion, literature, communication methods, and medicines through to the seasonal flora and fauna, the food and even the dining habits of people at that time. All vital if I were to create authentic scenes. Some writers might prefer to do less, and some prefer to do more. Though my story is largely driven by character, I still felt it was important to retain accuracy where possible to help keep readers engaged in the world I had created.
Q. Many, if not all, of your characters are deeply flawed. How difficult was it to create them and are any of them based on people you know?
A: They are flawed yes, and quite complex in their own individual ways. There is no direct comparison to anyone I know. My protagonist Marta grew from some research material I read about Anna Freud, a successful and intelligent woman but someone with a very dark and self destructive side too. I was curious about how two contrasting sides can coexist within one person and from that initial starting point I was able to build a full cast of characters and the world in which they existed. Having spent some time working as a relationship counsellor, I find human behaviour and personal motivation quite fascinating. So many people are layered and imperfect, and so many more seemingly intelligent and rational people make quite irrational and illogical choices or succumb to influences that make little sense to those around them. I can’t say they were difficult to create, once I got started they kind of developed themselves.
Q. Some of the themes and events you cover are quite dark and disturbing. How were you affected by your own writing?
A: I had no idea that the story would develop in the way that it did when I first started. I knew I was exploring some complex personalities and dysfunctional situations, but I think I almost became detached from it in the end. I guess the more I redrafted, edited and reread the story (and I did that a number of times!) the more desensitised I became, and so it has been interesting to find that some readers consider it so dark. As a counsellor I have heard many distressing stories and I know, whether we like it or not, that ordinary people can and do keep extraordinary secrets and hide parts of themselves. They can and do manipulate and lie, cheat and scheme. But with the right people around them they can also heal , change and grow. Sometimes it takes extreme circumstances to lead people to expect better for themselves. Our experiences and environment shape who we are and it takes time to undo the past and evolve. Marta’s transformation is gradual rather than revolutionary but I aimed to leave her at a point where she has hope for a much brighter future. There is a quote I like that I feel sums up the overall theme of the novel. ‘We don’t change until staying the same is more painful.’ – Rebecca T. Dickson
Q: If you had to live the life of one of the characters, which would you choose and why?
A: I think it would have to be Elise. She has her own issues to contend with, but she is powerful and independent in her own way. Whilst she does not always act out of kindness, she recognises her mistakes and seeks to put things right. As soon as she knows better, she does better.
I think readers of Vanessa’s book ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ can tell from Vanessa’s responses what an intelligent and interesting read this is.
Her debut poetry collection ‘Melodies of my Other Life’ was published by indie press Winter Goose Publishing in 2013. Since then Vanessa has been featured in several poetry publications, has won two poetry contests and has developed her fiction writing skills through training with the Arvon Foundation and mentorship from The Literary Consultancy. ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ is her first novel. She works as a freelance copy writer and marketing consultant and lives in the South West of England with her husband and four children.
‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ is available here:
Kindle edition £2.54 http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00Y165LRQ?*Version*=1&*entries*=0 (UK link but available worldwide)
Paperback edition £7.99 https://completelynovel.com/books/the-doctors-daughter–1 (A paperback edition will also be available on Amazon within 2-6 weeks but is available now on CompletelyNovel.)
You can find out more about Vanessa through these links: