The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
Opening sentence: “London.”
I found the jovial orange, abstract cover to be at odds with the stark subject matter of this book. While the cover hints at a playful or more left-field plot, the book was actually quite straightforward, in that it followed the lives of a mixture of patients in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Kent countryside, during 1949-1951.
If you’re thinking this doesn’t sound like the cheeriest plot line, you would be right. Although, that’s not to say there aren’t some likeable characters in there. Lenny and Miriam, the Lynskey twins, from the East-End of London are warm, bold and loud and New York native Arthur Persky adds a much-needed boost of energy to the sanatorium daily routine. Their fellow patients are gradually introduced, often enough and with varied backgrounds, so as to keep things interesting.
However, I found the overall pace slow, a little too slow at some points, which left me wondering if I really wanted to plough on until the end, but the wonderful, eloquently easy writing always made me turn another page, until it was suddenly over. You are effortlessly transported back to the post-war world, where the NHS is just beginning, rock ‘n’ roll is creeping into the mainstream and people, ill or not, are working out how to now live their lives with no rations or fear.
Although I didn’t close the book and feel like I loved it, the characters and story popped into my head days later – it’s definitely a read that you’ll ponder (I even found myself thinking about the harsh reality of living in that time and the fact that I didn’t actually realise TB was still very much a life or death disease in the era the book is set, considering it is now so rare – and treatable.) I feel this a book that could benefit from a re-read in a few years. A grower, if you will.