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THE DARK CIRCLE BY LINDA GRANT

PUBLISHED BY VIRAGO PRESS
REVIEW BY BECK BORONA

From award-winning British novelist Linda Grant, Virago Press delivers her seventh novel The Dark Circle. Grant steps away from a contemporary setting and gives us a glimpse into the lives of a group of people suffering from tuberculosis after the Second World War.

It centres on nineteen-year-old twins Miriam and Lenny Lynskey who are sent away to ‘the Gwendo’ in rural Kent; a newly-built sanatorium after the formation of the National Health Service. Coming from lower class roots, the Lynskey twins are also the Gwendo’s first Jewish patients, and widen the mainly privileged demographic of the institution. Miriam adds a particular zest to the lives of the patients around her, including her timid roommate Valerie.

Grant offers perspectives of a select few patients who are experiencing and coping with the effects of tuberculosis differently. The treatments are harsh, such as cold air remedies, deforming chest surgeries. The doctors appear to treat them as one type of patient, demanding compliance and offering condescending communication. But when rumours of a new cure begin circulating, they are determined to help each other, and use their influences to try and get hold of the medicine.

The synopsis of the book talks about a rebellion. I was expecting a political back and forth regarding the issue of patients receiving streptomycin, however I felt this book was more about the characters, their backgrounds, and their lives during the year, shut away in the sanatorium. The rebellion is in their spirits and the things they do and say to get through a time when TB was stigmatised as a death sentence. Don’t be fooled in thinking it’s a depressing medical drama; while the patients are inside, they’re also experiencing rock and roll music, sexual freedom, and forming life-long bonds.

At times it felt a little slow, until I accepted that the story was them, not necessarily what was going to happen to them. 

Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.