From the Publisher
“Part crisp thriller, part meditation on writing, Doctor Bloom’s Story is wholly marvellous.”
“A straight-ahead, spryly imagined, tightly written tale of suspense. . . This is fabulous stuff. Doctor Bloom’s Story has countless. . .moments that, in their combination of gaiety and sadness, fix themselves in your imagination. . . . Doctor Bloom is surely one of the most memorable and triumphantly conceived characters in recent Canadian fiction.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Coles writes so elegantly and so convincingly that we would follow him anywhere.”
—The Literary Review of Canada
“Coles, who has won many awards for collections of poetry, tells Dr. Bloom’s story with an ear attuned to the rhythms of speech and an admirable eye for detail.”
—Quill & Quire
“Doctor Bloom’s Story is, by turns, witty, contemplative, and spirited story telling. One of our finest poets now proves himself to be an accomplished novelist.”
“Any fan of Coles’ poetry will instantly recognize the distinctive, casually sophisticated voice of this novel, the almost off-hand way it gathers a whole range of interests into a compelling whole. Doctor Bloom’s Story is at once a medical mystery tale, an exploration of the limits of love and friendship, and a tribute to the art of writing — all rolled into an effortlessly seductive narrative. I couldn’t put it down.”
—John Bemrose, author of The Island Walkers
“Doctor Bloom’s Story is utterly compelling, a novel both wise and wonderful.”
—Richard B. Wright, author of Clara Callan
“How wonderful to find this trusted voice again, the poet transformed into the worldly late-bloomer Bloom! Reading Don Coles is like listening to an erudite, judicious friend tell the story of a life of the mind that doesn’t for a moment neglect the delights of the flesh.”
“Doctor Bloom’s Story is a complex, mellifluous novel that, while not tediously or pretentiously poetic, certainly puts language foremost — with commanding surefootedness and subtlety.”
—New Brunswick Reader
“A masterful, taut and unusual book.”
“Coles has devised something odd, lovely and exceptional: a plot-driven novel of ideas in which ideas are integral to characterization. He captures Bloom’s intelligence as it listens to itself unfolding, and it’s both fascinating and entertaining to listen with him…. A book that buries a thought-poem on every page.”
—The Vancouver Sun
Read an Excerpt
There’s an image I often have of myself, my ur-self before I began to elaborate and embellish it, an image I retain from the last seconds of sleep or recover in a reliable daydream. I’m sitting in a corner of a remote upper room, casting brief glances about me and then tilting my face downwards as though to meditate on what I’ve just seen. In fact I have seen nothing because no one else is in the room and there is no furniture. It may be, it can hardly be anywhere else, the unused attic room of my childhood home in Amsterdam, that tall narrow Leidsegracht house the attic room where I would go in late March when the weather turned a little warmer, to check on the dead flies at the window ledges. They meant, that random spatter, another winter gone, and in my rudimentary way I was taking note of this sort of thing even then.
If this is interesting at all it’s because the passage of time is by far the deepest thing I know about life, and, in an inverse way, about art. Also because everything’s connecting. I am a doctor who is abandoning medicine for literature, fitfully convinced that I have access to enough interesting words to justify this abandonment. (Doctors do this, I don’t know if you’ve noticed. Maybe they do it because time keeps on defeating life: no matter how diligent or technically cunning they are the impossibly delicate filaments, tiny cameras travelling bloodstreams their defence of life is brief, is never enough. So they’re tempted towards something with more stamina. Ars longa, etc. Though maybe not.) In my own case the “abandoning” could involve a thought confided to me a long while ago, almost certainly by my mother, who died when I was too young to benefit from such confidences confidences which are only now (and only imperfectly, haltingly, her voice after so long silence is windblown, is guesswork, Delphic) revealing themselves. Be that as it may, any physician or ex-physician who presumes to stray close to the making of literature has special ghosts to do battle with, in this respect I don’t feel even marginally original. The roster of ex-doctors who have brought their stethoscopes, as some of them with such risible satisfaction have told us, to that larger study of humanity which prose fiction proposes! Maugham, A. J. Cronin, “that charlatan” Axel Munthe. And many more. All vastly over-rewarded in their second careers.
So I thank the Fates for Chekhov, the one gifted exception to this inventory of physicians-as-kitsch-authors. And I take to myself his advice to his brother, who had scratched out a single short story and thought he too would now be on the same high road that Anton had travelled to fame, fortune and, of course, actresses: “You must drop your fucking conceit.”
OK, Anton. I’ve made a note.
Remains only to tell you that in what follows here, my “story,” less of me will come forward to be identified (applauded or excoriated) than some might wish. Others will be sorry that this modesty was not carried a lot further. In any case, things are missing, you’ll find some of these due to a spasmodic tact, others simply because they’ve sunk too far down in the historical oubliette to be retrieved. There are many consequences of this, all of them good. At one stroke you are relieved of the self-serving spectre of the Bildungsroman. Hurray! This does not mean that I’m a completely inert observer, nose pressed to window pane, passing intimate newsflashes like bouquets behind my back into the gloved anticipatory hand of some uniformed messenger-boy while the front of me goes on goggling and eavesdropping. I do have a role here. I speak, I move about, towards the end I engage in a significant “act.” But that is, as they say, it.
Time to start.
I am Nicolaas Bloom. Dutch by birth (my mother, mentioned above as a secret-bestower, was a Scot, ours was a bilingual family), surname until I left Holland, Blom. Born 1944 in Amsterdam, an only child. Local schools until eighteen; accepted in 1962 by the School of Medicine at the university in Leiden. Left medicine halfway through my studies to re-enroll as a Comp. Lit. major (I had unexpectedly fallen in love with poetry and drama and above all with short stories and supremely with Anton Chekhov, and have never regretted a day or a word of all that) but my parents, by this time father-plus-stepmother, were so distraught that after the three best years of my life (such word-vistas!) I re-entered Medicine, my place in the program having been kept for me. Graduated doctorandus. med. University of Leiden 1973. One year before that I had married (for the solemn quiet look she accorded me in the general office of the hospital in her hometown of Breda, where I was doing my internship, also for the whispery times we soon began having in my intern’s cubicle there) Saskia van der Velde, a nurse-in-training at the time of that look, born 1952, of Breda, in the province of Brabant. Began a general practice in Amsterdam but developed an interest in the heart shortly thereafter and went back to med school until 1979 when I was anointed cardioloog. Emigrated to the U. K. in 1984 (my wife, a small-town girl as I have mentioned, never felt at home in Amsterdam, which I loved, but at the time I loved my wife more, so off we went as though we were of one mind). Tried, for that small-town girl’s sake, the Border Country for just over a year, a village on the Northumberland/Yorkshire county line, but the moors’ unresting winds blew us south (a frivolous remark, obviously: what really happened was that there was very little welcome up there for yet another cardiologist), so we settled in Cambridge, choosing Cambridge because, as a direct result of two papers I had published on paroxysmal tachycardia during my involuntary leisure time on the moors, Queens’ College offered me a fellowship, thank God. We were together there for nine years, living on one of the world’s privileged streets, Barrow Road of that town it had almond trees lining both sides and its semicircular private drives were surfaced in rust-coloured gravel, the little stones of which uttered small crackling sounds as your car pulled up to your front door. How we both loved that town! and that road! And then that ended too. Halfway through those Cambridge years there was a stillborn child, a daughter she would have been. Not “would have been,” we both rejected that formulation. She was, we did have a daughter although one who, no reason for it, decided against light, air, even her own uncried cries, before we could steady ourselves. Three years after that, Saskia died. She had developed breast cancer, although according to her doctors at Addenbrooke’s the odds on her surviving this were good to excellent, she being both young and fit. But she defeated them. She did finally permit the mastectomy, but the subsequent and expected weight loss just went on and on, I think she ate nothing when I was not at home and I could not always be at home. When it was over I found a letter in which she explained why she wanted to die.