A Novel of Time & Place
Linda Grant's facility with time and place is again on show here. Describing the treatment of tuberculosis in a Kent sanatorium as the newly- created NHS emerges from the end of WWII, she provides us with a fascinating range of characters - young Jewish twins, whose promising lives are arrested by the onset of the disease, a mysterious German woman, a troubled (and troubling) medical director, a young graduate woman struggling to assert herself, and a brash American sailor who bursts into the narrative rather like an RP McMurphy from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Other characters make brief appearances but the narrative centres on the clinic, becoming ever more claustrophobic as the rhythm of existence slows to track the progress of the disease. The writing is simple and affecting, the story builds gently to a disruptive climax and then, equally gently, subsides to a briefer description of the ensuing 60 years in the lives of our principal characters.
It is a readable, at times compelling, story of ordinary people thrown together randomly, sharing only a fatal condition and a slim hope of a cure. It is also an understated tribute to a comprehensive health service. Whether the narrative would have benefited from fewer, sharper characters and stories is debatable and, probably, largely a matter of personal preference. A book that stays in the mind once finished.