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07Aug

The Night Interns by Austin Duffy review – horror and humour on the hospital frontline

Three junior doctors share the gruelling rite-of-passage of night duty in the practising oncologist’s poignant novel

We usually think of hospitals as somewhere safe, where patients get better or move on. The quote from Dante’s The Divine Comedy prefacing Austin Duffy’s latest novel implies an extreme version of this liminal space. This is underlined when his protagonist suggests his workplace resembles “one of those medieval paintings of hell, swarming with devils and the wretched”. The demons are the medical staff “directing the show”, the wretched are their helpless patients.

The unnamed narrator is one of a trio of surgical interns on call during the hospital’s gruelling night shifts. They prefer to patrol as a group, although it makes sense to take turns to sleep. Two, however, are anxious about several rudimentary procedures such as “putting in lines” or conducting a blood gas test. The inexperienced interns are wary of practising on the sick: “They didn’t know that we didn’t know anything, and it was probably better that way.”

The Night Interns by Austin Duffy is published by Granta (£12.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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