The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
From revolutionary China to war torn England. There is so much food in the novel. There is this urge to have some Cappuccino with cake or whip up some Bolognese sauce for dinner with spaghetti.
Starvation pervades through the narrative along with the idea of dissension in the novel. These two ideas are incepted in the reader’s mind as the novel takes a completely different turn. From the streets of London, we move to the house of tuberculosis in the countryside. From war to institutionalization.
Lenny and Miriam have an interesting sibling dynamic. Valerie stands in contrast to their dynamic. The three of them together form a good reading point in the novel.
The reading of the Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka right now is my favourite part of the novel. The narrative of Gregor Samsa being turned into a beetle and his family trying to hide his new identity at first makes you go – seriously, that’s what the hype is about?!! Then, you think about it and you understand the different meanings attached to this narrative. In context of this book – the idea of ‘unclean’, deformity and reprehensible taken from the Metamorphosis works very well when you read about the confinement suffered by the Lenny, Valerie and Miriam.
Arthur Presky – somehow when he entered the narrative – reminded me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I have images of Jack Nicholson in my head as the reader in me is imagining a rebellion.
The scenes of clinical suffering have been described well though the story could have done with a few more scenes. I keep thinking of Thein and her focus of the sufferings of Big Mother Knife’s family. While there was abundance of description there, The Dark Circle gives a vague feeling of dissatisfaction. The question clearly is where is it going?
They have gone on a cruise??!! The narrative suddenly moves to the people who were cured when the chapter before they were suffering and screaming. Again the question of what has this novel been about?
The novel leaves a vague sense of dissatisfaction. What was it about? Why did it move from war rationing to a TB asylum? Why did it move from clinical suffering to patients enjoying a cruise? Overall, I think The Dark Circle’s strengths was the chapters of the sanitorium. The end however needed a little more cohesion in order to provide a more resolved ending.
First Love by Gwendoline Riley
Unaccounted for – that phrase used by Neve perfectly describes the events of the novel. This is a character who is painfully alone which resonates deeply. A person who inhabits the margins – who almost fades away in her solitary existence.
You begin with her relationship with Edwyn. The character of Edwyn leaves with you with a sense of contempt. So do all male characters with Neve’s father, Roger and Michael following Edwyn’s example. Riley has delved into the seedy nature of the man without any redeeming factors altogether. Even with Edwyn who could have been redeemed through Neve’s narration and yet still retains his contemptible nature
Neve’s mother forms a foil to Neve – another woman on the margins yet trying desperately to fit in – hoping desperately that someone or the other would welcome her in. That scene where she sits behind her former husband while he talks with his friends being ignored by everyone and yet smiling so someone would notice. That was one of the highlights of the novel – this need for acceptance.
Neve’s need for acceptance is much more subtle. The first person narration is attempt to hide this need which is not very successful as it turns out. She lives by herself too used to her solitary life. This need is revealed in her relationships with Michael and Edwyn – Edwyn especially when he starts to devolve into his fear of dying. The narrative moves backward to denote the life of Neve until her marriage to Edwyn. Through her personal perspective, Riley explores a poignant narrative of solitariness.
I believe Riley went a little overboard with Edwyn’s verbal abuse of Neve. However, I think the abrupt ending of the narrative heightened the impact of this abusive scene. The chapter moved from Edwyn’s angry outbursts to them holding hands before departing. This end however is effective in the sense that the reader remembers the words and then is left with this ending of leave taking.