A Fortunate Woman

A Country Doctor’s Story

Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2022

Watch the trailer here

Polly Morland was clearing her late mother’s house when she found a battered paperback fallen behind the family bookshelf. Opening it, she was astonished to see an old photograph of the remote, wooded valley in which she lives. The book was A Fortunate Man, John Berger’s classic account of a country doctor working in the same valley more than half a century earlier. This chance discovery led Morland to the remarkable doctor who serves that valley community today, a woman whose own medical vocation was inspired by reading the very same book as a teenager.

A Fortunate Woman tells her compelling, true story, and how the tale of the old doctor threads through her own life in magical ways. Working within a community she loves, she is a rarity in contemporary medicine: a modern doctor who knows her patients inside out, the lives of this ancient, wild place entwined with her own.

Revisiting Berger’s story after half a century of seismic change, both in our society and in the practice of medicine, A Fortunate Woman offers a closely observed study of an extraordinary woman. In the finest tradition of documentary writing, it interweaves the doctor’s story with those of her patients, shedding light on what it means to be a doctor in today’s complex and challenging world. Reflecting on the relationship between landscape and community, and upon the wider role of medicine in society, a unique portrait of a twenty-first century family doctor emerges.

Illustrated throughout with photographs by Richard Baker.

Published in hardback by Picador on 9th June 2022.

Out in paperback 16th March 2023. 

This is no rural Call the Midwife, but a superb look at one woman making a difference… Morland writes about nature and the changing landscape with such lyrical precision that her prose sometimes seems close to poetry. There has been no shortage in recent years of books about healthcare . . . With this gem, Morland has done something similar for general practice.

The Sunday Times

An immersive study… Morland’s book contains a profound message for the future at a critical moment for general practice and us all.

Times Literary Supplement

Timely… compelling…[the] vital perspective of a single frontline clinician… A delicately drawn miniature.

Financial Times

This book deepens our understanding of the life and thoughts of a modern doctor, and the modern NHS, and it expands movingly to chronicle a community and a landscape.

The New Statesman

Morland’s portrait… updates Berger’s vision of general practice in several important ways… This is a book that celebrates relationship-based medicine, and what we stand to lose if this person centred approach to general practice is deprioritised.

The Lancet

A really terrific book… deeply moving, engrossing and unforgettable… At a very difficult time for general practice and for the medical profession as a whole, this book comes as a most welcome affirmation of the central importance of a respectful, reciprocal relationship between doctors and patients.

British Journal of General Practice

A compelling response to Berger’s classic account…drawn with colour and respect in Morland’s sensitive prose.

The Tablet

Superb – beautiful, enthralling, careful, tender. It is not just a portrait of the doctor and all those she serves, but a memoir of an entire English community, timeless and revelatory. I found it deeply moral, moving, lucid, and loving.

Laura Cumming, author of On Chapel Sands

Polly Morland and Richard Baker have more than done justice to the original John Berger book – and produced a work that stimulates the eye and the mind in equal measure.

Alain de Botton

A beautifully written book, both moving and humbling.

Lissa Evans, author of Crooked Heart and Old Baggage

‘A Fortunate Woman’ sets out in compelling detail the relationship-based care that will be lost forever if we do not act to support and revitalize a profession under threat. It is a vibrant and authentic portrait of the rural family doctor in these difficult contemporary times.

Trisha Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care, University of Oxford

I was consoled and compelled by this book’s steady gaze on healing and caring. The writing is beautiful.

Sarah Moss, author of Summerwater and Ghost Wall

‘A Fortunate Woman’ is the best book I’ve read about general practice for a long time. Astonishingly perceptive, it shows how a committed GP can keep human values alive in an increasingly impersonal NHS – and why we urgently need more like her.

Professor Roger Neighbour OBE, former President, Royal College of General Practitioners

All human life is here in this evocative portrayal of the challenges and joys of rural family doctoring in modern times. Enthralling and uplifting.

James Le Fanu, author of The Rise & Fall of Modern Medicine

This beautifully crafted book drew me in immediately by reminding me of so many reasons why I became a general practitioner in the first place…a compelling narrative based on patient stories. I loved it.

Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard

Stunning in style and content and I hope it encourages all readers to reflect on the book’s key message – the importance of relationship-based care and the fact that it is under threat.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair, Royal College of General Practitioners

One of the best books about medicine that I have read. The patients’ stories are vivid, moving, often unforgettable. Polly Morland has written with incredible sensitivity, appreciation and descriptive ability about the valley and the people who live there.

Professor Roger Jones OBE

Beautifully written, beguiling, important, overlaid with kindness, quietly woven with a sense of place and a profound insight into how rural communities function. I loved this book.

Robert Penn, author of Slow Rise &The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees

A remarkable, gripping and inspiring book that itself must surely become recommended reading for today’s trainee GPs… a gust of fresh, clear, contemporary air.

Reading the Forest

Beautiful and fascinating … it combines the structural elements of storytelling with the skill of real-life reporting, clustering them in the brilliance of a cloisonné-finish.

Dundee University Review of the Arts

A thoughtful and readable contribution to understanding how healing works in a community setting… Polly Morland’s book is ostensibly documentary, with writing styles more common in fiction, demonstrating why we need to think about the culture as well as the science of medicine.

Dr Hannah Bradby, Cost of Living blog