The Golden Age by Joan London

Wellcome Book Prize 2017 longlist: The Golden Age by Joan London

Review published on March 17, 2017.

London’s third novel has already won several prestigious awards in her native Australia and it’s very easy to see why. It is a tale which begins with short chapters and beautifully drawn characterisation which draws the reader in right from the start. The title is the name of (an actual) convalescent hospital for children with polio, giving them the chance to relearn how to walk. It is set in the early 50’s in an Australia fascinated by their new Queen.

Main character, 13 year old Frank Gold, the oldest child at the hospital, is struck down with polio after emigrating from a difficult war as a Hungarian Jew. Both parents are with him but their attempts at a new life are interrupted by this sudden and cruel illness. It is a beautifully observed, quiet novel which belies its grim subject matter and becomes a life-affirming testament to hope and love. Frank has aspirations to become a poet and in Elsa, another patient, he has found his muse. The care for the children, their struggles and triumphs and the effects this stigmatizing disease has on their families is superbly handled. At times it reminded me of the critically acclaimed TB hospital set “Dark Circle” by Linda Grant but here I found myself caring more making “The Golden Age” an even more satisfactory novel.

Written with a real flair for language it picks up on the perceptiveness of adolescents unable to move on with their own lives but absorbing everything around them. This is a real treat- a poetic, warm, involving, even elegant novel based upon a hideous disease.

Phil Ramage 5*


The Golden Age by Joan London, published on 18 August, 2016 by Europa Editions in paperback

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