Breaking & Mending by Joanna Cannon, Review: Powerful memoir

Breaking & Mending is a slim but strikingly honest and powerful memoir from Joanna Cannon, psychiatrist and bestselling author of literary fiction.

Breaking & Mending by Joanna CannonBreaking & Mending Synopsis

A junior doctor’s stories of compassion & burnout

In this powerful memoir, Joanna Cannon tells her story as a junior doctor in visceral, heart-rending snapshots.

We walk with her through the wards, facing extraordinary and daunting moments: from attending her first post-mortem, sitting with a patient through their final moments, to learning the power of a well- or badly chosen word. These moments, and the small sustaining acts of kindness and connection that punctuate hospital life, teach her that emotional care and mental health can be just as critical as restoring a heartbeat.

In a profession where weakness remains a taboo, this moving, beautifully written book brings to life the vivid, human stories of doctors and patients – and shows us why we need to take better care of those who care for us.

(Profile Books – Paperback Release, July 2020)

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

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When I read Joanna Cannon’s debut fiction The Trouble With Goats and Sheep back in 2016 I found myself captivated by her writing style, her beguiling descriptors, poetic nuance and disarming insight. So when I saw she’d written a memoir about her experiences in the medical profession, Breaking & Mending, I felt compelled to read it. And really, there could not be a more fitting time to better understand and appreciate what those on the frontline are going through.

A few years ago, I found myself in A&E. I had never felt so ill. I was mentally and physically broken. So fractured, I hadn’t eaten properly or slept well, or even changed my expression for months. I sat in a cubicle, behind paper-thin curtains and I shook with the effort of not crying. I was an inch away from defeat… but I knew I had to carry on. Because I wasn’t the patient. I was the doctor.

Not a job, it’s a vocation

The striking honesty and authenticity with which she interrogates her own thinking and responses to situations, and how that changed, during her journey from aspiring student of medicine to fully-fledged doctor, will move even the most hardened of souls. The tears rolled for me.

How we are expected to move on to the next situation, the next tragedy, without speaking about the one we have just left behind. How we are expected to carry these parcels of grief around with us each day or learn very quickly how to build walls to shield us from the suffering. But in caring for someone you instinctively begin to care about them, and when something happens to the people you care about, there is no wall strong enough or thick enough to keep you out of harm’s way.

In Breaking & Mending, what Cannon so powerfully demonstrates is that while compassion can deliver an immense burden, it is the well from which acts of kindness spring. And, small acts of kindness can sometimes be the only thing that brings light, and most crucially, hope to people in their darkest of days.

Source: Profile Books, Wellcome Collection – Breaking & Mending

The power of stories

From ‘the weight of words’ to the ‘absence of choice’, Cannon shares stories of everyday experiences in ways that break down barriers and change long-held mindsets.

The more stories you hear, the more you realise that people always choose their words with care, and words are chosen for a reason.

In my humble opinion, there is more to be learned from this slim but powerful memoir than any self-help book. I recommend Joanna Cannon’s Breaking & Mending unreservedly.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5  — Overall 4.75

Get your copy of Breaking & Mending from:

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This review counts toward my participation in the 2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge.

Related Reads:
This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay  /  Jane Doe January by Emily Winslow  /  The Watermill by Arnold Zable  /  An Elephant in My Kitchen by Francoise Malby-Anthony  /  The Professor and The Madman by Simon Winchester

About the Author, Joanna Cannon

Joanna Cannon is the author of the Sunday Times bestsellers, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, which was published in fifteen languages, and Three Things About Elsie, longlisted for the Women’s Prize. Her novels have sold over half a million copies in the UK alone.

Her love of narrative had always drawn her to psychiatry, but it wasn’t until her thirties that she decided to go to back to university to study medicine. Before specialising in psychiatry, she rotated through a series of hospital jobs, from A&E to palliative care.

* My receiving a copy of Breaking & Mending from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.