Linda Grant’s latest novel has a rather grim premise. Eighteen-year-old twins Lenny and Miriam Lynskey, the children of Latvian-Jewish immigrants, are beginning to find their way in post-Second World War London. It is a place of ‘mostly grey and beige and black and mud-coloured people’, of rationing and devastation, but also one of opportunity. But then they are both diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a sanatorium in Kent, where in the absence of effective drugs they undergo various ‘cures’. Miriam is made to sleep outside in all weathers, while Lenny has a lung punctured in order to ‘rest’ it from the ravages of the disease. Some patients recover – more in spite of than because of the cures – but for others the diagnosis is a death sentence.
Yet the bleakness of the subject matter is offset by the exuberance of Grant’s writing and characterisation. The sanatorium houses a range of vivid characters, including a lesbian German refugee, an aristocrat who has been there for years and who may or may not be tubercular, and an ex-soldier