Book review: Cut, Susan White

An incisive exploration of misogyny in a surgical setting.

Cut by Susan White is a compelling account of a young surgeon’s feminist awakening. Carla is aiming to be the first female consultant at the prestigious, fictional Prince Charles Hospital in Melbourne. Her plans, however, are challenged by the boys’ club protecting its own. After an egregious mistaken surgery caused by several errors on the part of a number of people, Carla (the only female doctor involved) is scapegoated. Then, there’s the endemic sexual harassment and assaults.

At the start of the novel, Carla is reticent to make waves. She reflects, ‘fact was that it was a male world, and the best thing we could do was recognise it and work within it.’ She looks down at a younger colleague for complaining about sexual harassment, figuring she was ‘surely old enough to cope with a dirty glance or two.’ Carla’s transformation is informed by the relationships she builds with other women in the hospital, and some infuriating and even traumatic events in her own life.

She comes to push back in small ways, and in big ones. The book shows how once you gain a conscious awareness of daily misogyny, you can’t ignore it anymore. Even if it would be easier to do so.

Cut has urgent real-world corollaries. Women are just as likely to enrol in medical training as men, and yet they are underrepresented at more senior levels. Only 28% of medical deans and 12.5% of hospital CEOs are women. White, who draws on her own medical experience, offers powerful insight on some of the reasons why women leave the field before they can reach their career potentials.

Carla’s own character development also mirrors the widescale realisation that women are often treated terribly in the course of their careers, as exemplified by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. This book will be particularly relatable for people who’ve previously thought that the goals of feminism are no longer relevant and who now, through hard-won experience, are more interested in the nuances of feminist ideas.

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There are moments in the novel that miss building verisimilitude, such as stilted or overly formal dialogue from time to time. Nonetheless, Cut offers a striking insight into the elite world of surgery and how elitism builds exclusion.

Cut by Susan White
Publisher: Affirm Press
ISBN: 9781922806383
Pages: 336pp
RRP $32.99

Publication Date: 30 August 2022

Erin Stewart is a Canberra-based freelance writer and researcher.