Hi everyone! I thought for my first blog post I would do a short review of Linda Grant’s Baileys nominated novel The Dark Circle. The story is set in post-war Britain and follows London teenage twins Lenny and Miriam Lynskey. Life seems pretty straightforward to them until it is discovered they have tuberculosis. The siblings are sent away to a sanatorium, newly opened by the NHS, nicknamed ‘the Gwendo’ in Kent and the novel follows them adjusting to their illness and this new life, as well as exploring the twins’ relationships with their fellow patients.
The first thing that struck me was Grant’s writing. The imagery is so emotive and helps to draw you in to the story and care for the characters. Even a person like Dr. Limb, the medical director at the sanatorium, who is very selfish and whose actions are questionable, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him at times. The thoughts and feelings of both the patients and others around them are so beautifully conveyed that whether they are upset, angry or joyful, you sympathise with them. This is down to Grant’s amazing word choice and imagery. A great example occurs quite early on in the novel when the reader first meets the officers at the Gwendo. They are incredibly bored and feel cut off from life, and Grant compares this to walking around in a fog. She writes, “It was a greyish fog (…) more like the air quality when the light begins to fail on a mid-December afternoon near the solstice at three o’clock and the pollution from all the coal fires of a city turns the figures of shadowy men and women, your fellow travellers, into faint outlines, warped blackish shapes in hats and overcoats resembling sluggish carp at night moving below the surface of a lake’. The novel is littered with beautiful descriptions like this.
Another aspect that I loved about The Dark Circle was Lenny and his character development in the story. At the beginning he is a very cocky teenager and throughout the novel you see him become a young man who embraces life, despite the perceived limitations of his illness. I think his development was perfectly judged by Grant and you find yourself rooting for him in the story. Also his relationship with his sister Miriam was really well written. I think the dynamic between the two of them was essentially the heart of the novel and you felt the love they had for each other. In a lesser writer’s hands (i.e. mine) it could have appeared quite trite but Grant makes that relationship interesting and sometimes painfully realistic.
If there was any criticism of the novel it would be that the ending felt rushed. I think you could easily have cut the last 30 pages or added more to give the final part more depth. As it is the ending feels a little lacklustre. Also a character appears towards the end who I’m not entirely sure serves any purpose. Perhaps they do and I can’t see it, but to me they seemed unnecessary. Despite my criticism of the ending I still found The Dark Circle engaging and enjoyable. I highly recommend it. This was my first Linda Grant novel and now I want to dig out her other work.
The Dark Circle is published by Virago.
Website if you want to check out more: https://www.littlebrown.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9780349006758