The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
Lenny and Miriam are Jewish twins living in the bustling East End, just starting out in life and finding their feet. Lenny plans to follow in his Uncle’s (slightly shady) footsteps, headed for a career in property and Miriam dreams of owning her own flower shop.
When Lenny’s declared medically unfit to join the army he presumes it will be because his Uncle had greased the right palm, not because he is suffering from Tuberculosis. Although she doesn’t suffer as badly, Miriam is also found positive for the disease and together they are sent to the state of the art sanatorium, The Gwendolyn Downie Memorial Hospital. Thanks to the brand new NHS they are offered exactly the same care as the numerous private patients that also reside within its walls. For many of the ‘upper class’ residents, it is the first time they are exposed to people such as the twins and it is definitely the first time they have ever had the chance to meet a true Lady.
As their bodies deteriorate they find solace in the company of the other patients. Their friend, Valerie, teaches them her passion for books, keeping Miriam sane in the toughest times. They encourage in her a confidence she never had before. Sometimes they have nothing in common but their illness but
Still teenagers, the twins are forced to face their own mortality and decide whether they give in or fight with every breathe they have and live with the consequences.
Although Linda Grant’s latest novel revolves around the degenerative lung disease tuberculosis she manages to keep the novel from ever becoming too dark, instead of injecting it with unique characters with different stories and outlooks. Obviously, there are moments, where people give up and the disease takes hold, that twist your heart with pity and sadness but overall the novel lifts you up.
Set in 1949, it’s a time of social and medical change with the introduction of the NHS and the country recovering from the war, the progression of medicine and how it is accessed. Miriam and Lenny’s religion also adds another level to this novel, giving us an insight into how people saw them after the fighting stopped.
One of my favourite things about this novel is Linda Grant’s way with words. Her insults cut deep (my personal favourite too rude to share here but you’ll know it when you read it) and finding beauty in the everyday.
‘Sarah kissed her at the side of the building, under the corrugated iron roof of the coal shed. The smell of bitumen forever associated with love.’
The Dark Circle by Linda Grant is an unusual coming of age story of illness, passion and survival. Character-driven, touching and engrossing this novel will have you longing to return to the sanatorium.
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