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The Dark Circle: Shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2017 Hardcover – 3 Nov 2016
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Exhilaratingly good . . . This is a novel whose engine is flesh and blood, not cold ideas . . . Grant brings the 1950s - that odd, downbeat, fertile decade between war and sexual liberation - into sharp, bright, heartbreaking focus (Christobel Kent Guardian)
A Grant novel is always a treat . . . Grant captures the stigma that surrounded TB perfectly (Evening Standard)
A writer whose language crackles with vitality and whose descriptive powers are working at such a high level (Spectator)
Linda Grant brings a forgotten slice of social and medical history to life by conjuring a rich cast of disparate - though equally desperate - characters observed with wry humour and affection to produce an absorbing and profoundly moving story (John Harding Daily Mail)
The novel is funny but also poignant . . . I loved it (Stylist)
The Dark Circle is, beneath its narrative surface, fiercely political. She poses a large, naggingly relevant, question. What would (will?) privatisation of the NHS mean? Read this fine, persuasive, moving novel and contemplate - if you can dare to - that awful possibility (John Sutherland The Times)
Fascinating . . . a revealing insight: both funny and illuminating, it is a novel about what it means to treat people well, medically, emotionally and politically (Hannah Beckerman Observer)
Grant is so good at conjuring up atmosphere and writes with earthy vivacity (Anthony Gardner Mail on Sunday)
Contemporary issues linger ominously in Grant's margins, silently enriching what's already an astonishingly good period piece (Lucy Scholes Independent)
Her cast of characters is nothing less than a portrayal of post-war, class-riven Britain from the indolent aristocracy, to Oxford-educated blue stockings, and from car salesmen to the bottom of the pile, German emigres and East End Jewish lowlifes . . .This is a novel, above all, about trauma caused by the "dark circle" of tuberculosis, and results in a "tight circle" of comradeship. The ambitious reach of the novel is wisely held in check by its focus on a time when Lenny and Miriam had to discover for themselves what it was to be human (Jewish Chronicle)
A rich, engaging novel, further proof that Grant can conjure up a special mood in a specific period with great humour (Ben Lawrence Sunday Telegraph)
Extraordinarily affecting (Alex Preston Observer)
An extraordinary depiction of the physical and emotional experience of illness. She marvellously communicates the poignancy of youth and sexuality in the presence of impending death. Grant's voice is unlike any other writer; so immediate and engaged even when writing historical fiction (Natasha Walter)
An amazing subject, wonderfully depicted, with plausible people whom I grew to love . . . the most surprising plot developments. So original and full of life (Joan Bakewell)
The new novel by the acclaimed author of Upstairs at the Party and the Booker-shortlisted The Clothes on Their Backs.See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
The book is just over 300 pages split into 49 chapters.
It is relatively unusual for novels to be set in the 1950s which was a fairly uneventful decade in comparison to the rest of the century.
Putting the characters together in a hospital serves as a vehicle to give a good cross section of society and observe how people get along together - or not!!
We learn a lot about the general society of the time including the realisation that life is much cheaper than today. There is a healthy acceptance of death which may have been related to the not long finished world war.
Everyone judging everyone else but quickly seems to appreciate that there is much more below the surface of each character and it is interesting to consider the leveling effect of possible death.
I particularly admired how the narrative switched between characters, all of them observing the constrained situation in which they have ended up.
There are some wonderful phrases used in the text as the author seems to portray the period perfectly.
Somehow the atmosphere in the hospital seems to mirror the outside society and the revolutionary changes that are starting to happen. So much is covered around the plot, dealt with using great sensitivity and no degree of prejudice - class, sexuality, morality, healthcare and much more. These difficult subjects are handled with a very soft touch that often brings a smile to your face.
When we finally get to Part Two the characters are so familiar that the author seems to have grown in confidence and switches between the people without any confusion. I'm not completely convinced that the move to a different country was necessary but I accepted it very quickly.
Also worth noting that I loved the lead up to the ending as well as the actual ending itself.
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?