The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

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The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jo Heffer
Reviewed by Jo Heffer
Summary: Adversity can draw some families together whereas it will tear others apart. When thirteen-year-old Gwen McKotch is diagnosed with Turner's Syndrome, all her family suffer. Years later, they are still all having to deal with the condition and the impact it has had on all their lives.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0007225071

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The Condition is the first book I have read by Jennifer Haigh but I feel sure that it will not be the last. From the very first page I found myself drawn into this magnificently compelling story and I was soon caught up in all of the characters' lives.

This is a story about an ordinary family. At least they are ordinary until the day they discover that Gwen, the middle child, suffers from Turner's syndrome which means that her body will never grow up. Her parents, Frank and Paulette, and her two brothers react in different ways but life will never be the same for any of them again. Adversity pulls some families together but it tears others apart. This is the way it is for the McKotch family.

The story starts in 1976 when gradually it becomes obvious that there is something wrong with thirteen-year-old Gwen's development. The story soon moves forward and twenty years have passed meaning the reader has to piece together all that has happened in the intervening years. Frank and Paulette are divorced. Billy, the eldest son is troubled by relationships whilst youngest son Scott is trapped in a bad marriage. Gwen, at thirty-four, is doing her best to lead an adult life but is caught in a child's body.

The story moves seamlessly between the lives of these five characters, and as it did so, I started to sympathise with all of them. It was fascinating to see how the different family members behaved towards each other. The central relationship is between Paulette and Gwen. Gwen is continually striving for her independence whereas her mother only wants to protect her from all the difficulties that she might face. It's this conflict that ultimately leads to the climax in the story when each character has to examine the person they have become and make decisions that will affect all their lives. The more I read, the more I felt involved with all of them.

The way all the stories are interwoven could have made this a difficult book to follow, especially as it moves backwards and forward in time. However, it is such a well-crafted story that it is not tricky at all. In fact, the movement between the different stories only serves to enhance the reading experience. From the very first page, I was absorbed and just wanted to keep on reading.

It is interesting to note that Jennifer Haigh resists the temptation to go into great details about the medical condition itself as this is not what the story is about. She chooses to focus on the varied reactions to the syndrome and in doing so this results in a tale that is much more about the human condition rather than any medical one.

This is a warm honest novel which gets straight to the heart of what it means to be part of a family, even one that is disintegrating through no fault of its own. It is both sensitive and thought-provoking and will provide an acutely emotional read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this sounds like your sort of book, you will probably enjoy My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. We've also enjoyed Haigh's Faith.

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Buy The Condition by Jennifer Haigh at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Condition by Jennifer Haigh at


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