The Dark Circle – Linda Grant (Virago 2016)



Former Orange Prize for Fiction Prizewinner (2000) Linda Grant’s seventh novel is set largely in a TB sanatorium in post-war Britain.  East End Jewish twins Lenny and Miriam find themselves having to put their lives on hold when his national service medical leads to them both being diagnosed with the disease.  The embryonic NHS gives them the opportunity to recuperate in the country in a former private hospital in Kent.

This is the tale of those who found themselves in the Gwendolyn Downie Hospital.  It is a tale of torturous treatments, sleeping outside for maximum fresh air, complete bed rest, punctured lungs and the other limited methods of providing relief.  There are rumours of a wonder drug, streptomycin, which the patients believe will bring an immediate cure.  It’s very much Britain on the threshold of the modern age and everyone anticipates change.

Grant’s strength is in characterisation.  She brings together a group of characters of different ages, gender and class backgrounds which would have, until this point in history with the NHS’s influence, rarely spent much time together.  The sense of camaraderie between those who have nothing to do but get better comes across well.

With the slightly larger than life Lenny and Miriam at the centre there’s actually a lot of fun for the reader despite the grimness of the subject.  True, there is the disbelief and outrage at some of the treatments which seem barbaric nowadays but there’s hope as the narrator lets us know what is coming in the form of effective antibiotics and the BCG injection.

Taking the main characters beyond the confines of the hospital in the second section did not work so well for me but overall I was very impressed with this book and its depiction of a time, although not that long ago, feels very much like a distant age because of medical progress.


The Dark Circle is published by Virago on November 3rd.  Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for my advance review copy.

7 thoughts on “The Dark Circle – Linda Grant (Virago 2016)

  1. Monika

    There were similar accounts – non fictional- on the Radio 4. A story of a young trainee nurse in a sanatorium for TB patients, a disease caused mainly by unsuitable habitation and probably malnutrition…That malnutrition sounds like nowadays victims of foodbanks-hungry kids, or parents who sacrifice food for themselves, so kids are fed at least. Absolutely disgraceful in this day and age. Bring on cooking classes not only for kids, but for their parents as well.


    1. I wasn’t allowed to do cookery at school, because I was a boy! There’s generations of those attitudes to get through and no doubt considerable health implications. My mum taught me to cook – I always think if I had been allowed to study it at school I could have been a world famous chef by now! Good to hear from you, Monika


  2. Kay Carter

    I learned to cook from watching my mum, she wouldn’t let me loose in her kitchen, she always knew best and wouldn’t experiment and just wouldn’t let me make mistakes. When I left home and had my own kitchen I was always concocting things, some were a complete disaster, but I haven’t poisoned anyone yet, and Wayne still refers to the kitchen as my laboratory.
    Back to the book.
    I read something similar to this last year, for the life of me I cant remember the title of it. It dealt with the harsh realities of TB and it’s consequences from a patients point of view and that of the familly, it was dark in places yet at the same time it was quite light and in places laugh out loud funny.


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