The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

At the age of thirteen Gwen McKotch is at the beach with her younger cousin Charlotte.  As Gwen’s father passes by and glances at the girls he is shocked to see how small Gwen looks in her child sized bikini next to the younger Charlotte.  At this moment the McKotch’s get the first inkling that there is something wrong with their daughter and they soon learn she has Turner’s Syndrome; a genetic condition that stops the body from maturing trapping her forever in the body of a child.

Twenty years later, Gwen’s parents are now divorced.  Her older brother Billy is a cardiologist dutiful and dedicated  to a fault battling his own thoughts on what a relationship should be.  Her other brother Scott has struggled with drugs, a lousy soul sucking job, and a lousy soul sucking marriage.  And then there is Gwen, silent and emotionally aloof, bright and accomplished.  She has made peace with the hand she has been dealt and now in her early thirties she is falling in love for the first time.

Suddenly… the McKotch’s world is once again tipped on it’s axis.

Turner syndrome or Ullrich-Turner syndrome (also known as “Gonadal dysgenesis”[1]:550) encompasses several conditions in human females, of which monosomy X (absence of an entire sex chromosome, the Barr body) is most common. It is a chromosomal abnormality in which all or part of one of the sex chromosomes is absent (unaffected humans have 46 chromosomes, of which two are sex chromosomes). Normal females have two X chromosomes, but in Turner syndrome, one of those sex chromosomes is missing or has other abnormalities. In some cases, the chromosome is missing in some cells but not others, a condition referred to as mosaicism[2] or ‘Turner mosaicism’.

Occurring in 1 in 2000[3] – 1 in 5000 phenotypic females,[4] the syndrome manifests itself in a number of ways. There are characteristic physical abnormalities, such as short stature, swelling, broad chest, low hairline, low-set ears, and webbed necks.[5] Girls with Turner syndrome typically experience gonadal dysfunction (non-working ovaries), which results in amenorrhea (absence of menstrual cycle) and sterility. Concurrent health concerns are also frequently present, including congenital heart disease, hypothyroidism (reduced hormone secretion by the thyroid), diabetes, vision problems, hearing concerns, and many autoimmune diseases.[6] Finally, a specific pattern of cognitive deficits is often observed, with particular difficulties in visuospatial, mathematical, and memory areas.[7]


I knew I wanted to read a Jennifer Haigh book.  I have known this for over a year now.  When the opportunity presented itself to a part of a tour and I had choice of reviewing one of several titles, I asked for the book to be chosen for me.  The Condition is what was offered, and I accepted.

The Condition, after all, is right up my alley.  Books about families with real issues, real feeling tragedy’s and triumphs is something I enjoy reading about.  After all, in today’s world the family without struggles of some kind is extremely rare. Some of us are born with deficiencies we have no control over, others grow into habits and addictions brought on by may causes… and it is amazing how one family member can stumble, and the repercussions can tumble down for years and years to come.

So…. did Jennifer Haigh deliver?

When I sat down and opened this book one thing really impressed on me immediately…. I felt like I landed right in the story.  This is not one of those reads where someone says, “hang on… after page 105 it really gets good!”, no, this book grabbed me from the start.  In fact when I sat down that first day to start it, I only planned on checking out how it started, read a page or two to get the feel of it and then continue the next day. 

That is not what happened.  Instead, I was sucked in and each page made me want to read another.  Right from the start the story pulls at you, causing you to want to know more… to want to read more.  You can’t stop, because you are always in the “happening moment” and who wants to stop while stuff is happening?  😀

I am not going to describe a lot here as this is a book that is best left to the reader to discover.  I will say that I liked how Jennifer Haigh skillfully broke the narration into five parts and each of the McKotch family has a voice, all giving their take on the same event.  This was handled smoothly and allowed me to feel as though I knew and understood each family member.

At first glance, you would think The Condition is about Gwen’s diagnosis, but as you read you will discover that the condition, is part of each of them.

An intelligent read that I will continue to think about for a long time. 

35 thoughts on “The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

  1. I agree, this is a very very good book. Structured and written well.

    I read this a few years ago and reading your review reminds how much terrible the Dad was. Right? Not a creep, yet something unsettling about this guy. I can’t remember the details though.

    Glad you enjoyed it. I need to read faith (I have the audio on itunes…) just another book I need to read!

  2. A really interesting review! I love it when a book grabs a hold at page one and doesn’t let go. My reading list just got longer (…that sounded dodgier than it was meant to…)

  3. I have read two Jennifer Haigh novels (Faith and Mrs. Kimble) and loved them both. I’m so glad that The Condition lives up to what I’ve come to expect from Haigh. Great review today – I will definitely be reading this one soon.

  4. I loved “Faith” by her that I read last year and it landed on my best of 2011. I bought this one a while back for my Kindle. I can NOT wait to read it! Your review was wonderful!

  5. I’m not surprised you liked the book, Sheila. I’ve read a few of Haigh’s novels and think she’s a fantastic author. Great review!

  6. This sounds like a very good book, somewhat in the manner of Jodi Picoult. If it is anything like hers, i.e.. My Sister’s Keeper, it is definitely worth the read!

  7. I’ve heard of the author but not of the book. It sounds very interesting. I love books about medical conditions (such as Lisa Genova writes, for instance). It’s going on my wishlist. Thanks!

  8. Enjoyed Faith very much when I read it last year and I think it would garner a lot of discussion at book club. This one sounds like it would be a good one too. I love when an author takes real issues that most people don’t have to think about or worry about and puts them at the forefront of our brain. It’s important to step into somebody’s shoes now and then.

  9. I’m so glad you liked it!! As I have mentioned, Haigh is a favorite of mine. I just read The Condition last summer and also enjoyed it. As you allude to at the end of your review, I felt that “the condition” actually referred to more than Gwen’s condition; I thought that each of the family members had his or her own “condition” to deal with.

    You absolutely must read Baker Towers – that is my favorite Jennifer Haigh book and was also well-liked by my book group.

    Nice review!


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