Review of Arthur Hailey’s ‘Strong Medicine’

The book was released in 1984 and my elder brother read it when he was about to complete his graduation in B.Sc. (Chemistry). He was much inspired by the novel and indeed it motivated him to join the pharma industry as a Medical Representative.

His novels are known to follow a set formula – he would base the human drama and conflict in a particular industry be it Pharma, Banking, Hotel, Airlines and grab the attention of the readers thanks to well researched content and the ability to relate to the average Joe on the street.

Collection:E+ Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

I read it much later while I was at college and was suitably impressed as well. It was a welcome change to have a female protagonist and an industry outsider, to join the tough world of sales and rise to the top. Early in the novel the heroine is shown to falter on her knowledge about her job, but she rebounds with a determined effort to improve herself and win the respect of the doctors she hopes to advise and influence.

It was the stuff that dreams are made up of – blood, sweat and tears very much there for one to see as the prerequisites of climbing the corporate ladder and managing the internecine politics of influence and big money.

The author’s style also helps a lay person understand the nature of the industry and its profit drivers. Celia is shown to be an ambitious young lady who can manage office politics and retain a ‘no-nonsense’ attitude towards values and ethics. She meets her prospective husband, a doctor, in the course of her work and helped him save a critical patient. Her husband is shown to be a softer character and more acquiescing of the two. All the same he is quite strong and does support her through her battles – arguably the right combinations in terms of compatibility to sustain a strong marriage.

Celia’s battle to the boardroom is bruising and well narrated – indeed the author spares us no grief and is not in the business of reciting fairy tales. Celia takes on powerful vested interests as she wants to drive her vision of ethical research and marketing of medicines. But it not an empty idealism as she has an acute commercial acumen and can spot some winning ideas early on. For someone with so much of moral scruples, she does not hesitate to seduce a promising researcher into accepting her offer. Some of this stuff is obviously ‘larger-than-life’ and meant to pander to our instinct to ‘hero-worship’ the protagonist at all costs.

But overall such novels were few and rare. We are talking about a world before the internet revolution and the spouting of social media. Very few people would have deep knowledge of the workings on an industry and its battles to manage viability, profitability along with values and ethics. Arthur Hailey had already made a name for himself with novels like Hotels, Airport, Wheels and The Moneychangers. Strong Medicine was a welcome addition to the list and the right dose of medicine for the uninitiated.


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