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Bleeding the pastThe Blood Doctor by Barbara Vine 400pp VikingThere is something despicable about the genetics of haemophilia Sufferers are male Women carry the gene silently realising their inheritance only when they give birth to an affected boy who need not be their first son By then they may have had daughters some of whom will in turn pass the mutation to their children Barbara Vine constructs her new novel around this fateful roulette The Blood Doctor is narrated by Martin Nanther a biographer whose latest subject is his great-grandfather Dr Henry Nanther was a 19th-century expert in bleeding disorders When Queen Victorias eighth child Leopold was diagnosed as a bleeder - as haemophiliacs were termed in less enlightened times - Henry was appointed physician to the royal household As Martin investigates his illustrious forebears life he stumbles upon haemophilia in his own convoluted family tree Retracing its spread through the generations he finds confirmation of his deepening suspicions about his great-grandfathers morality and character Anyone who has compiled a detailed family tree let alone superimposed a genetic pedigree on it will know it is a truly tedious business Vine is rather too faithful to the process and although the great-grandparental mystery at the heart of Martins researches holds the readers attention for some while fatigue eventually sets in Rather than shocking the monstrous denouement feels curiously anticlimactic such is the lack of motivation for it in the narrative Fortunately there are other facets to The Blood Doctor Henry ennobled by Queen Victoria has passed the title of Lord Nanther down his line The novel is set during the long passage through parliament of the House of Lords bill As an hereditary Martin faces banishment Vine brings the rituals procedures and atmosphere of the Upper House vividly to life Perhaps surprisingly one begins to appreciate even to share Martins pride and affection for the place Haemophilia need no longer result in disability and early death
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