Lucy Moore

Halved Lives

The Radium Girls

By

Simon & Schuster 465pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

When fourteen-year-old Katherine Schaub started work at the watch-dial factory of the Radium Luminous Material Corporation in Newark, New Jersey, in February 1917, she thought she was the luckiest girl in the world. Her new job, applying the numbers to watch dials in luminous paint, would be hard work, requiring diligence and a steady hand, but it promised to pay well and the other girls were welcoming and would become friends. More than that, though, there was the glamour of working with radium: the so-called ‘watch studio’ looked as if it had been sprinkled with stardust.

Discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie only nineteen years earlier, radium was a wonder element. At $120,000 a gram it was the most valuable substance on earth and had been hailed as a miracle cure that could wither cancerous tumours and restore vitality to the old. Even its name made it sound as if those in contact with it would actually become radiant. ‘Sometimes I am halfway persuaded that I can feel the sparkles inside my anatomy,’ claimed one happy user with unconscious insight.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,
    • 'The Testaments is, first and foremost, a manual of resistance ... a type of resistance that is organised, articula… ,
    • 'I did occasionally wonder whether Rupert Murdoch ... might have instructed his editors at William Collins to produ… ,