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Physic for the soul

07 April 2017

Fiona Hook on a tale about life and its lows


The Shadow Doctor

Adrian Plass

Hodder & Stoughton £14.99


Church Times Bookshop £13.50



THIS is a strange book, by someone better known as a Christian humorist. There are some nice one-liners, but it is mostly a serious look at what grief and misery do even to those who have faith.

Sorrowing and exhausted, Jack Merton is clearing his beloved grandmother’s house after her death when he finds she’s left him a letter. In it she tells him how, in a period of black unhappiness, she was helped by a man known as the Shadow Doctor. Hounded by the uncertainties in his own life, he rings the number on the enclosed card, and suddenly finds himself on a fortnight’s trial, sharing a cottage in deepest Sussex with the mysterious doctor, who is looking for an assistant in his work. The doc, with his uncanny intuition, has picked up that Jack, who spends his time cobbling together solutions for other people, is himself near to despair.

He’s not a normal doctor. He helps those who are oppressed by shadows, past or present — blackmail, the temptation to suicide, loss of faith, and even the fear of exploding — with unexpected insights, meals, good whisky, laughter, momentary distraction, and the promise that there will be light at the end of the trouble. His answers are completely unpredictable. The only person he’s been unable to help is himself — until God sends him a friend when he needs one.

Plass has been quite open about the occasional doubts he meets along the path of his faith, and you sense that in his two protagonists he’s exploring aspects of himself. It is probable that every reader will perceive it differently. For me, it was a reminder to help whoever crosses your path, without stopping to ask why. I urge you strongly to read it and see what you make of it.


Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.

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