Making and Breaking

Rosalind Mitchison

  • Health, Happiness and Security: The Creation of the National Health Service by Frank Honigsbaum
    Routledge, 286 pp, £35.00, August 1989, ISBN 0 415 01739 4
  • CounterBlasts No 5: Into the Dangerous World by Marina Warner
    Chatto, 58 pp, £2.99, September 1989, ISBN 0 7011 3548 4

Nobody could call Frank Honigsbaum’s book ‘user friendly’. Some reasons for its indigestibility are inherent in the topic: the moves, some effective, most frustrated, by civil servants and politicians, towards the creation of the British National Health Service. But there are also self-inflicted handicaps to ready comprehensibility: the author has done his best to impede communication. His structure means that he tracks through the period 1936-48 several times and with the year not always discernible, for he takes the plans of civil servants for general practice as one story, for hospital services as another, and then looks at the discussions of the financial issues. Much of the writing is in the form of initials, and the table of these given is not comprehensive. A further shorthand leads to the suppression of many of the small words that ease communication, the ‘the’s’, ‘that’s’ and ‘to’s’, so that at times the prose reads like headlines. Some sentences have got away with hanging participles, mistakes in number or misuse of subjunctive tenses. This is hard going.

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