Undoctored review: Tragicomic stories told with verve and vulnerability

Adam Kay has written a funny portrait of a doctor as a patient willing to bear witness to his own difficulties

Author: Adam Kay
ISBN-13: 978-1398700376
Publisher: Trapeze
Guideline Price: £22

Have you heard the one about the medic who ran out of patients?

It’s Adam Kay, and this pun serves as the subtitle of his latest book, Undoctored, which picks up chronologically and stylistically where he left off in his debut memoir and runaway success, This is Going to Hurt.

For those familiar with Kay’s work, it’s a subtitle that neatly reassures the reader what to expect: more of the same.

For those who are not, allow me: tragicomic stories, told with verve and vulnerability, that make you wonder if the best laughs are those wrung by a punch to the gut.


The preponderance of medical memoirs is rather easily explained. We are hardwired for storytelling, and few professions are more grounded in narrative than medicine. Doctors are trained in science but immersed in story, and Kay drew from this rich storytelling well in This Is Going To Hurt, which chronicled his travails as a junior doctor and concluded with him burnt-out and walking away – “a eunuch leaving an orgy”, as he quips in his new book.

Tension and drama

The question hanging over Undoctored is whether his style – verve, vulnerability, a self-described “above average sense of humour” – is sufficiently interesting to accommodate the fact Kay no longer has access to his patients’ stories, and the inherent tension and drama invoked by a story set in a hospital.

The solution Kay offers to this question is himself. At its core, Undoctored is a portrait of a doctor as a patient, and Kay’s strength is his willingness to bear witness to his own mental and physical difficulties without getting sidetracked by self-seriousness. And also, it’s funny! It really, reliably is, and to laugh out loud from such an interior activity as reading is a deep pleasure.

But does the solution work? Yes and no. Kay’s gambit to centre himself, white coat cast aside, is brave and heartfelt, and his comic touch remains deft. But the book is not short, and by interspersing prequel with sequel anecdotes, there’s a creeping sense of reading the beginning and end of a story where the most interesting bits happen in the absent middle. Fans of Kay’s work will enjoy the routine, but a casual reader may run out of patience with the medic who ran out of patients.