1903, Boston. Dr Ravell is a young obstetrician whose reputation for helping couples conceive has made him a rising star. He is flattered when a family of illustrious physicians turns to him to treat one of its own members. Erika von Kessler is a beautiful and ambitious opera singer who has struggled for years to become pregnant. As the young doctor’s attraction to her increases, and his treatments prove ineffectual, Erika’s despair worsens. And when Dr Ravell takes a great risk that may imperil his promising career, a secret he can share with no one, it is a decision that will change their dreams and destinies. What ensues is an unforgettable love story that sweeps across snowy Boston, a lush island of the Caribbean, to the graceful piazzas and opera stages of Italy.
This is Adrienne McDonnell’s first novel and the plot is based in part on a true story inspired by a distant relative of the author’s. I can certainly see why her ancestor’s story would have intrigued her; The Doctor and the Diva is historical fiction mixed with a good dose of adventure and a dramatic and controversial love affair at its centre and makes for intriguiing reading.
The book is divided into eight parts with the first two parts taking up the first half of the book and concentrating on the von Kessler’s struggle to have a child. Their desire to exhaust every possibility before giving up brings them to seek treatment from Dr Ravell, an up and coming obstetrician with a reputation for his success in helping couples conceive. As Ravell’s and the von Kessler’s lives become linked, Ravell takes a number of risks to provide them with the results they so desperately want, the consequences of which play out in the second half of the book.
Action in the latter sections of the book moves between Ravell’s life on a coconut plantation in Trinidad, Erika’s struggle to pursue her operatic dreams in Florence and the people that Erika leaves behind in Boston and for me this was the most heartbreaking part of the novel.
Ravell and Erika are the main characters in this story but I found it difficult to identify with or empathise with either of them. Both characters take actions that I found difficult to reconcile and whilst I found some understanding for Ravell and his desire to please the couple that he had come to like, I found that I had little empathy for Erika as the book went on. By the conclusion, I was intrigued to see how the story would play out but not really rooting for the characters to have a happy ending. For me, the love story aspect of the book was underplayed and I didn’t really feel the chemistry between characters.
With parts of the plot located in Italy and the Caribbean, I enjoyed reading about different locations and the historical detail of turn of the century Florence, Boston and the Coconut Plantations of Trinidad. The book is well researched and although not subjects I’d normally have much historical interest in, the descriptions of obstetrics and the life of an Opera singer held my attention throughout the book thanks to McDonnell’s vivid writing.
The Doctor and the Diva is certainly a thought provoking read that made me think about the freedoms that I take for granted and the changes in the world over the last hundred years. I’d recommend it to those looking for something different from their next historical fiction read and I look forward to seeing what Adrienne McDonnell will produce next.
The Doctor and the Diva is released on 28th April and I’d like to thank the pubisher for sending me a copy to review.
You can find out more about Adrienne McDonnell and her books at: www.adriennemcdonnell.com