The Gap is the latest memoir from Australian author and filmmaker Benjamin Gilmour, looking back on his work as a paramedic in Sydney during the summer of 2008. Page after page of stories describe the calls that Gilmour and his colleagues attend, from Kings Cross callouts and suicide attempts to frivolous cases of headaches and sniffles. As well as considering the physical and emotional burdens that ambos must bear, the book looks at what happens when their personal lives present additional crises.
As the book opens, Gilmour has just begun a voluntary separation from his long-term romantic partner and is using work to ignore his feelings. Soon after, Gilmour’s closest colleague breaks up with his partner. Rather than bringing Gilmour and his colleague together for mutual support, these experiences ostracise the two ambos as they retreat into their own heads.
Gilmour’s protagonists, including Gilmour himself, consistently choose not to ask for help. They also choose not to offer each other help for fear of interfering, focusing instead on the needs of their patients and relying on gallows humour and self-medication to get them through. Though this approach has a certain appeal, particularly in a larrikin work culture, it only serves to hide, not heal, the hurt. This becomes tragically apparent by the end of the book.
Gilmour writes with no-holds-barred authenticity when depicting the blood spatter, vomit and broken bodies that ambos deal with daily. However, he is discreet to the point of obfuscation when it comes to his colleagues’ and his own emotional struggles. This has rendered their depiction far less compelling and aesthetically out of step with the rest of the book, preventing the public and private elements of this story from coming together.
It’s a rare memoirist who has the skill to take their everyday life and use it to create a strong narrative arc with a pleasing balance between text and subtext. The Gap relies too heavily on the reader’s inherent fascination with the details of ambo life, though Gilmour’s anecdotes will certainly satisfy that particular curiosity. As moving and true as this story is, however, it never becomes the incisive consideration of stress and trauma in the emergency services that it seems to want to be.
Viking, 304pp, $34.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 31, 2019 as "Benjamin Gilmour, The Gap". Subscribe here.