The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Second World War is over, a new decade is beginning but for an East End teenage brother and sister living on the edge of the law, life has been suspended. Sent away to a tuberculosis sanatorium in Kent to learn the way of the patient, they find themselves in the company of army and air force officers, a car salesman, a young university graduate, a mysterious German woman, a member of the aristocracy and an American merchant seaman. They discover that a cure is tantalisingly just out of reach and only by inciting wholesale rebellion can freedom be snatched.
I almost didn't finish this book but am so glad I did.
It is the end of the war and two Jewish East End twins Lenny and Miriam find themselves in a sanatorium when Lenny is diagnosed with TB and his sister is also taken there in case he has infected her.
The sanatorium is in Kent, far away from their London roots, where everything is strange and frightening but their close bond with each other enables them to survive in this alien place. Miriam is separated from Lenny straight away and has to have bed rest sharing a room with Valerie who has been in the sanatorium some time. Lenny shares a room with a car dealer Colin Cox.
We are introduced to the other patients, ex servicemen, a university graduate, an aristocrat and a mysterious German woman and they are all at different stages of the illness, some are chronic and unlikely to recover despite the treatment and others respond well and will eventually leave but they all seem to stay at least a year maybe longer. The sanatorium is run by Dr Limb who instills in the patients that they have to learn to be patient. No one is forced to stay, it's not a prison and although they initially fight against it and want to go home, Lenny and Miriam eventually become accepting of their situation and as Lenny puts it 'the fight seems to go out of him'.
All patients are waiting for the new drug streptomycin to arrive which they had heard would cure them and until that comes they pass their time as best they can.
I almost didn't finish this book because it was quite depressing in the early chapters with graphic descriptions of treatments such as collapsing lungs and excruciating needle procedures that quite frankly I'd rather not know about. It didn't really seem to get going until chapter 21 and the arrival of Arthur Persky an American seaman with a big personality and big ideas to liven the place up.
There were some interesting characters in this novel, all with stories of their own and it was easy to like them. I loved the two main characters, Lenny with his swagger, sharp clothes and laid back attitude and Linda Grant showed how the sanatorium changed him and perhaps it would have been for good without the arrival of Persky. Loved Miriam, her feistiness, love of fashion, movie stars and love of life and how Persky being American seemed to epitomise all her hopes and dreams.
This was well written, both sad and at times deeply moving. When Persky arrives the pace picks up and things start to 'happen' which made me continue to read as I wanted to know how it panned out. The story spans decades so we find out what happens to the characters, if they survived, their lives after this experience so it was nice to round it off like that. There are some tragedies that happen which are truly horrible, decisions taken out of love that go badly wrong and change the lives of some of the characters forever.
This is a novel that I think you have to take your time with and in the words of Dr Limb 'be patient' but if you persevere then I am sure you will enjoy the journey.
I give this 4 stars because the pace was just too slow for me at the start.
I would like to thank the publisher for sending this in exchange for an honest review.