Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

For a post-war historical fiction novel, this book is strikingly relevant at this moment in time.

It begins with a demonstration in Trafalgar Square. A speaker stands up and rails against the influx of Jews to an angry, disaffected crowd. Lenny Lynskey, on his way to a medical before joining the army, catches a hint of anti-Semitic hate speech and hurls his packed lunch at the speaker. At risk of violent retaliation, he’s saved by his twin sister Miriam, apprentice florist and impulsive bouquet-wielder. Today, the incident would be on YouTube.

It’s 1950 and the teenage Jewish twins are diagnosed with tuberculosis, sent to a sanatorium and left to the whims of hope and rumour. The disease is a killer and no respecter of class. A rest cure involves boredom, fresh air and close proximity to other sufferers, some of whom the East End siblings would never otherwise have encountered.

Those elements of fortune – birth, achievements, wits, humour or intelligence – which brought our characters thus far no longer count. What matters at The Gwendo is your temperature, your lungs and your willingness to become A Patient.

The book is uneven and requires commitment from the reader in its slower sections. Yet it provokes thought about how recently people died from a disease now eradicated and leaves us with some hope for the future.

Thematically, Grant’s tale could act as a commentary on current governmental manifestos. Healthcare and the fallout from military conflict, prejudice towards class and race, alliances under pressure and who appeals most to the fearful – entertainer or reformer, faith or science?

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, PWA by Oscar Moore or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Avoid if you don’t like: Slow moving narrative, descriptions of disease

Ideal accompaniments: Fresh air, a Bloody Mary and a roast beef and horseradish bagel

Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction

Available on Amazon

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