Book Review: MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors (1968)

by StevenHelmer

A review of the 1968 Richard Hooker novel that inspired both a movie and a television series.

Synopsis: When Captains Hawkeye Pierce and Duke Forest are assigned to the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, they become immediate friends. They, along with chest surgeon "Trapper" John McIntyre immediately show their value as surgeons. However, their constant disregard for authority often gets them in trouble with their commanding officer, Henry Blake, and other Army brass.

Review

I have seen the 1970 movie several times and have watched reruns of the television series so much, I could probably recite several episodes from memory. However, I realized I had never taken the time to sit down and read the book that started it all. So, the last time I was at the local library, I decided to correct that.

Since I knew both the television series and the movie took a great deal of liberties with this novel, I wasn't really sure what to expect from it. However, after finishing it a couple days ago, I can honestly say I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting.

MASH
MASH

Let me start out by saying I wouldn't personally consider this book a "novel." Instead of one, cohesive story (which is what I personally think of when I hear the term novel), it would be better to describe it as a series of short stories.

This is actually something that made the book somewhat interesting. As I correctly guessed, the movie and TV series were very liberal with their interpretations of the book, with many of the major characters from the former, such as Frank Burns, not getting more than a few pages in the book.  And, as a result of this, even though I did recognize some stories that carried over either to the film or television, the overall book wasn't as predictable as I thought it would be.

I also thought the book took some things further and crossed more lines than the movie and show did with some parts being borderline offensive, at least by today's standards. This includes stories about an epileptic prostitute and a suicidal dentist. There's also quite a bit of casual racism in it. While there was nothing I found offensive to the point I couldn't read the book, it did make me realize just how much had to be toned down for it to be shown at a theater or on a TV screen.

Mash: A Novel About Three Army Doctors

Before the movie, this is the novel that gave life to Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John, Hot Lips Houlihan, Frank Burns, Radar O'Reilly, and the rest of the gang that made the 4077th...

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Final Opinion

This probably isn't going to be a book everyone enjoys. However, if you like either the show, the movie or both, it is worth taking the time to read the book that started it all. I am glad I finally did.

My Grade: A

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Updated: 05/20/2019, StevenHelmer
 
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