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Fiction Literary

The Heart Specialist

by (author) Claire Holden Rothman

Cormorant Books
Initial publish date
Mar 2009
Literary, Medical, Historical
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2009
    List Price

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Inspired by the life of Doctor Maude Elizabeth Seymour Abbott, The Heart Specialist is the story of a woman pursuing her dream at the dawn of the twentieth century. Stripped of a regular childhood when her father is accused of a horrific crime and abandons the family, Agnes was never considered ladylike. She is drawn to the wrong things, such as anatomy and dissection, which lead to her calling as a doctor. Yet despite a rapid rise to stardom in the medical community, she finds herself up against the same glass ceiling faced by women in her field.


Set against the backdrop of conflict and upheaval permeating the early 1900s, The Heart Specialist is the story of one woman’s triumph in the face of adversity.

About the author

Claire Holden Rothman is a Montreal writer. After early training as a lawyer, she taught college literature, and creative writing at McGill University. She has also worked extensively as a translator in her native Montreal, winning the Glassco Prize for her translation of Quebec’s first novel, Le chercheur de trésors/The Alchemist. Rothman’s short fiction has appeared in numerous literary periodicals. She has published two story collections, Salad Days and Black Tulips. The Heart Specialist, her first novel, was longlisted for the 2009 ScotiaBank Giller Prize, is a Canadian bestseller, and was released in Italy, Germany, the UK and French Canada. Claire Holden Rothman lives in Montreal with actor Arthur Holden and their two sons.

Claire Holden Rothman's profile page


  • Short-listed, OLA Evergreen Award
  • Long-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize

Editorial Reviews

“I can pay a book no higher compliment than to say I didn’t want it to end. With The Heart Specialist, I rationed my reading, permitting myself only a few chapters at a sitting so as to savour the writing and the story.”

Montreal Gazette

The Heart Specialist is a fascinating novel that conveys both a sense of history and of the timelessness of human emotions. That Rothman also demonstrates the damage that prejudice can do, and the power of the human spirit in overcoming it, is simply an added bonus.”

Quill and Quire

“Told with precision, grace, and passion, The Heart Specialist is a beautiful, moving, utterly captivating novel about a woman who becomes Montreal’s first female doctor. The writing is striking, the emotion immediate, the medical detail fascinating, and the story compelling from the first page to the last. Claire Holden Rothman deserves a wide audience for this astounding literary achievement.”

Lawrence Hill, author of <i>The Book of Negroes</i>

The Heart Specialist offers something for nearly everyone. Students of Canadian history, particularly Canadian medical history, will enjoy the work’s careful and lifelike detail. Montrealers will delight in the atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Montreal, which is a palpable presence throughout the book. Yet others will be drawn to the depiction of a pioneering woman’s struggle. Mystery lovers will revel in the slowly unveiled secrets, and romantics will discover at least a little of the stuff of dreams. Some will find the best thing of all: a book we look forward to turning the pages of, remembering where we last left off.”

Montreal Review of Books

“The novel is ably researched and written, with never an ungraceful sentence.”

The Globe and Mail

“A wonderfully captivating novel.”

The Sun Times

The Heart Specialist is an electrocardiogram of a novel. Claire Holden Rothman sensitively traces the peaks and valleys experienced by a woman breaking through the formidable gender barriers of early twentieth-century medicine. Her Dr. Agnes White is a fascinating character, an anomaly in her time, an authority on the human heart who knows so little of the workings of her own. I ached for her.”

Caroline Adderson, author of <i>Ellen in Pieces</i>

Other titles by Claire Holden Rothman