Monday, November 23, 2009

Review: Weekends at Bellevue by Julie Holland

Julie Holland spent nine years as a psychiatric doctor working the weekend night shift at Bellevue Hospital and this medical memoir is her recounting of those long years. She discusses some of the patients she saw, the therapy she herself underwent, her close friendship with a fellow doctor, and clashes with other members of the staff. It is fascinating to see what goes on behind the locked doors at Bellevue but it is equally interesting to see what Holland learned about herself during her nine years there. Obviously she detailed the more colorful patients and incidents as more mundane evenings probably wouldn't have made for particularly entrancing reading, at least long term. But in her reactions to patients and the medical system as it currently stands, she lets the reader into more of her own life than expected.

Holland pulls no punches and doesn't try to sugarcoat her confrontational style or hide her anger management challenges or minimize the abrasive, uncaring stances she was capable of taking during her stretch at Bellevue. While this doesn't make her a terribly sympathetic narrator, it does offer the perspective that she's a reliable and honest one. She doesn't mock the patients and while she learned to ignore the fact that she would be seeing these people over and over again until they finally fell through the cracks in the psychiatric medical system, she does have an air of caring about her which she tries very hard to tap into in her own therapy sessions. The odd assortment of people she saw, from the perfectly sane and lucid to the criminally insane were interesting to read about but fairly heartbreaking as well, given their likely outcomes in life.

The writing here is choppy and sometimes disjointed and her tale doesn't hold together as well as it could. The glossary in the back was helpful in terms of the plentiful acronyms and medical slang that Holland used to mimic the language of Bellevue's ER. But this same specialized language made it more difficult to fully sink into the book until quite far into the narrative. Some of the shifts between Holland's personal life and her public service in the ER were abrupt and roughly integrated but the fusing of the two topics was necessary to see that Holland wasn't just a cocky, uncaring doctor working to shove people through her ER as fast as possible. Instead, her own struggles show that she is human and working to conquer her foibles just as so many of the rest of us are. Julie Holland seems to have had something to prove in writing this book and while I don't know if she's proved it to herself or her intended audience, this was ultimately an interesting read for those of us outside the psychiatric community. People with an interest in psychiatry and or medical memoirs will generally enjoy this book.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for providing me with a copy of this book to review.


  1. I think I might enjoy this book for some reason. Thanks for reviewing it Kristen.

  2. This sounds very interesting to me, despite the flaws in the writing. Thank you for the excellent review.


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