Customer Reviews


69 Reviews
5 star:
 (34)
4 star:
 (21)
3 star:
 (10)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MOVINGLY INTO THE GREAT UNKNOWN
In the nursing home a life is ebbing away, ninety-two year old Mary so often confused but in lucid intervals with vivid memories of the long past. Her son John, a biographer, realizes she represents living history. With research and photographs he will try to explore that past, revelations leading to greater understanding and respect.

In some ways this is a...
Published on 31 Mar. 2013 by Mr. D. L. Rees

versus
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mary, Grace and John
A book of two halves, the one with the throwbacks to Mary's Mother, Grace, and the one where Mary is being overcome with alzheimer's disease and is visited often by her only son,John, dare I say it, is quite boring. No doubt he is trying to come to terms with his Mother's illness and imminent death but I couldn't warm to him at all. There is no mention of his wife...
Published 23 months ago by Mrs. C. A. Troops


‹ Previous | 1 27 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MOVINGLY INTO THE GREAT UNKNOWN, 31 Mar. 2013
By 
Mr. D. L. Rees "LEE DAVID" (DORSET) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Grace and Mary (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In the nursing home a life is ebbing away, ninety-two year old Mary so often confused but in lucid intervals with vivid memories of the long past. Her son John, a biographer, realizes she represents living history. With research and photographs he will try to explore that past, revelations leading to greater understanding and respect.

In some ways this is a social documentary, an entire century covered in the tale of three mothers: Ruth who died giving birth to Grace, she whose ironic fall from grace meant Mary could never really be brought up as her daughter. All the while here is a study of changing times and attitudes. Some find it impossible to adapt, as with honest farmer Wilson, unable to forgive the transgression of one he held most dear. One warms to preacher Walker - mild when out and about but fiery in the pulpit, there jabbing at the consciences of those eager to condemn.

Throughout vividly recreated are times of happiness, passion, crushed hopes, sudden end of innocence, determination to face up to formidable challenges.

Much uplifts - as with that portrayal of a close knit community where people rallied round (the village of Wigton completely closing down for a funeral), an era when singing seemed a way of life. (In one glorious sequence old Mary breaks into song. Gradually the entire nursing home's patients and staff join in - depression dispelled, all uplifted.)

John is deeply moved by what he discovers. Many readers will be too, especially those with loved ones who are no longer aware. This represents a growing problem. People are living far longer than ever before, for many the mind seemingly intent on preceding the body's departure from the world. How best to preserve the quality of life? Can much be learned from John's attempts?

Many thoughts are provoked by a novel so tender and true. Welcome here an evocative, involving read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Memory wandering and failing, 2 Dec. 2013
By 
Susman "Sussman" (London Mills IL) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Grace and Mary (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is my first foray into any work written by Melvyn Bragg, and thought it was time to sample his work. Melvyn Bragg, through unfortunate personal experience, had just finished this novel before his own mother died from Alzheimer's disease in a nursing home.
In the narrative our main protagonist's is John a successful man in his 70s who is the only child of Mary. He is very close to his mother and wishes to engage the last remnants of mind that is confused and fading

John contemplates the ambiguities of the deteriorating mind, and hopes that he can stimulate it by calling up old memories, speaking to her of the past; he shows her a book of old photographs of the town they lived in and Mary lights up. However, then she drifts away, and doesn't remember who he is, asks when she will be back in her own home, and when her husband - dead for some 15 years, will come to visit her. Mary also calls out for her mother, Grace, and yearns to be with her.

Grace was Mary's mother, but we learn, she didn't bring her up, and they never lived together. They never had a true mother-daughter relationship. Grace's backstory is the other half of the book, told in episodic way aptly interleaved laced with John's visits to Mary. John tries to understand the state of her dementia, and how it may be lessened, is there a cure - can it be found. Grace's story is re-created by John, but presented as a non-fiction more over rather an accurate reconstruction, yet the reader accepts it just as one accepts John's accounts of his visits to Mary - the two narratives here are very different and Melvyn Bragg pulls it off with subtle style.

This book, for me, is an exploration world of the aged and dementia, a road that we may travel. We can only hope there is someone as gentle and caring as Mary's son at our side.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written fictional account of dementia and family secrets., 26 Nov. 2013
By 
JK "J. K." (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Grace and Mary (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My first Melvyn Bragg novel and so different from how I expected it to be....in a good way.

Running to a comparatively short 250 pages Grace and Mary is powerfully poignant and well done to Mr. Bragg for packing such a complex structure into a short novel and making it work.

Grace and Mary spans more than three generations of family history and features Grace, her daughter Mary and Mary's son John as the principle characters. The setting of West Cumberland is well evoked and Bragg's knowledge of the area helps set the scene while adding a sense of reality. He also handles the differing time shifts, ranging from the days prior to The Great War to the present, very well without losing historical continuity.

I particularly enjoyed a glimpse into the social history of a previous generation with their widely different religious and moral belief systems. It's amazing how much our concept of 'sin' has changed and it was so important for Bragg to bring that into his plot and get it right as his story hinges upon Mary's 'illegitimacy'. Even though Mary's now in her 90s she's driven by the mystery of a mother she hardly knew and her need to connect with Grace is overwhelmingly sad. It's this intensity of emotion that draws in John, now 70, and convinces him to uncover his family history. Not an easy task when so much of it comes directly from Mary who is rapidly approaching the end of her life and dementia has set in.

Dementia is never an easy subject for an author to get right but in this novel Bragg has approaches it in a clean, unsentimental way keeping the character of Mary dignified and allowing the reader to find their own level of empathy.

Grace and Mary is easy to read and I'd finished the novel in two sittings. Intelligent, well crafted and thoroughly intriguing would make a great TV drama.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and engaging, 14 May 2013
By 
A Smile and a Wave (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Grace and Mary (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the first novel I've read by Melvyn Bragg. I was aware of his reputation as a writer but only really knew him from his television writing and appearances. I had expected to find a well written story but to be honest it was actually better than that and I found a beautifully written book with lots of wonderfully colourful characters. Interest in the story itself will depend on the reader's tastes but I found it to be very engaging and would say that it is a book to read slowly rather than race through the pages. It's often the case that we only truly value things when we lose them, and in recognising that the author has found a story which both touched and intrigued me.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mary, Grace and John, 1 Jun. 2013
By 
Mrs. C. A. Troops (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Grace and Mary (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A book of two halves, the one with the throwbacks to Mary's Mother, Grace, and the one where Mary is being overcome with alzheimer's disease and is visited often by her only son,John, dare I say it, is quite boring. No doubt he is trying to come to terms with his Mother's illness and imminent death but I couldn't warm to him at all. There is no mention of his wife although we are given to understand that the children have grown up and left home and you are aware that John is in his early 70's. does he feel guilty for past neglect?Is he trying to help Mary by reminding her of her past or trying to reassure himself?
The parts relating to Mary's life, her Mother Grace and her Grandmother are far more interesting and bring out the hardships suffered by the working classes and the unbending morals of the time particularly among the religious factions. More of this and I would have given the book more stars but, for me there was too much of John's introspection.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The powerfully poignant story of the love between a 70 year old son and his mother through her final struggle with dementia, 2 Nov. 2013
By 
Andrew Sutherland "Sutho" (Surrey outposts) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Grace and Mary (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Grace and Mary by Melvin Bragg tells through the device of alternating narratives set in the present and the early twentieth century, the story of a London based intellectual of 71, an only child, who travels as often as he can to visit his mother, Mary, who is gradually failing from the effects of dementia, in a nursing home in Cumbria.

In parallel with the powerfully moving account of his attempts to keep her spirits up and his gradually declining hope of arresting, then merely slowing her decline by sharing with her old photographs and singing familiar songs together, he writes also of her painful childhood and the suffering of her own mother Grace caused largely through the social attitudes of the time to illegimacy. Among the many examples of memory loss and confusion there are some moments that cut to the bone, such as when Mary says with sudden clarity "I'm not going to get better, I'm I?"

It is by no means a completely depressing story with some beautiful imagery and lighter moments of banter between mother and son, that raise a smile. The chapters dealing with earlier lives are equally convincing in their detail and sense of time and place, and a sadness and grimness, inviting comparison with the works of Thomas Hardy.

The lingering impression from the book is one of the sadness of inevitability addressed by the author with great kindness, tenderness, sympathy and imagination, but never straying into sentimentality. This impression is doubly powerful when one discovers the story is very largely autobiographical.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Melvyn delivers a sad, yet upbeat, meditation., 19 Sept. 2013
By 
G. J. Oxley "Gaz" (Tyne & Wear, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Grace and Mary (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Good old Melvyn, he was a decent novelist well before making his TV mark with the arts programme 'The South Bank Show' but it's for that he'll chiefly be remembered - or at least that and his adenoidal drone. Sad, when he's still capable of writing lovely books like this one.

I'll admit to reading a couple of his sixties novels a few years back, but since then I've never even contemplated picking-up one of his later books. This isn't because of snobbery or distate on my behalf, but due to the simple fact that there are too many other great writers and novels vying for my attention.

So this short book (barely more than a novella) provided the perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with his work. And, the bloke can definitely still write! 'Grace and Mary' features carefully measured prose that tells the story of Mary, 92 years old, confused, and sadly dying in a nursing home. However, during her good moments, memories of her life surface and she speaks of these to her son John - himself in his 70s - and he in turn reminisces with her on their shared experiences.

This leads John to reconstruct the story of Grace, the mother that Mary barely knew, and he comes to realise that the essence of history can still make its effects felt in our present, subtly colouring and influencing it, and how the past never dies as long as people are here to remember it.

'Grace and Mary' is ultimately both a sad, and upbeat, novel, and also partly a social document. Mr. Bragg is very much back on my radar again.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary people getting on with their lives..., 4 Jun. 2013
By 
Sally Zigmond (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Grace and Mary (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Mary is in a home. She has vascular dementia and her mind is slowly slipping away. John, her son, comes up as often as he can from London to spend time with her. He believes that perhaps he can help preserve her memories by taking her back into her past. He chooses to tell her about Grace, her own mother. Sometimes she joins in, sometimes she sleeps or argues. Mostly she likes to sing.

And so the story evolves into three strands. One is about Grace's life, another about Mary's and the third is set in the present day in which Jon muses about the nature of memory and whether it can be stimulated by evoking old shared memories or whether it's just a way of communicating with a mother who, still there bodily is slipping further a way from him.

This is a quiet novel. Grace's life is not without tragedy but it is not dramatic. Nor does she aver achieve her hopes and dreams but suffers quietly and makes the most of what she has. Mary's story has sadness at its core but again, she soldiers on, One also gets the feeling that John is not a happy man even though he had more opportunities, a good education - just like the author himself. This novel tells it as it is. No fireworks, no sudden twists and turns and no great life-changing events. And yet it is moving and believable. The reader learns for him and herself where Mary's passion for singing came from and why. It is clear at the end that Grace's story is only what both Mary and John have picked up from the fragments of their memories and from family stories over the years.

I have never been able to finish a Melvyn Bragg novel before (I don't know why) but I found this a satisfying and emotionally fulfilling tale of fading memories of lives forgotten and unfulfilled. It's about the real life of the past, about the way the 20th century shaped all our lives. Not the major events, not the important people but ordinary unassuming people like us: muddling through and making the best of things.

Although I found it somewhat romanticised and the poverty and harshness of life at times painted with a rose-tinted brush (Thomas Hardy without the fatalism), this is a profound novel full of deep truths. I would like to see it on a Booker short-list but I expect the judges will not find it 'gritty' or 'relevant' enough for their tastes. A pity.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and Poignant, 2 May 2013
By 
D. Elliott (Ulverston, Cumbria) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Grace and Mary (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
For a comparatively short book of less than 250 pages `Grace and Mary' tells a powerful and poignant family story spanning more than 3 generations, with main protagonists as grandmother Grace and her daughter Mary with Mary's son John. The setting is West Cumberland from before The Great War up to the present and this allows for rich social commentary on shifting values with erosion of convention and tradition, particularly with regard to intolerance, religion and concepts of sin.

John has turned 70 years old with a normal family background that is never investigated, and an illegitimate Mary is in her 90s with huge gaps in descriptions of her growing up. Attention centres on her final days in a nursing home near Silloth, and on John's regular travels from London to visit when he undertakes to prompt reactions from Mary's ailing memory. Mary wants to connect with her real mother Grace, who she hardly knew during her upbringing and later life. John explores family history and he prompts her with questions, photographs, singing childhood songs etc. to both remember and to reconstruct the past. It may be feared the subject of dementia is bleak and depressing but without sentimentality author Melvyn Bragg skilfully treats this sensitively and sympathetically.

`Grace and Mary' is not about patient suffering or inefficient and callous nursing homes, and indeed Mary's home is a caring and loving establishment. Melvyn Bragg concentrates on the decline of the mind and how old people can recall memories. This is particularly poignant due to Mary's apparent affinity with Grace whose own mother died in childbirth, and though initially Grace's life was full of love when being brought up by her grandparents and as she excelled at school, she later received disappointing support from family and was subjected to appalling treatment as an unmarried mother. Melvyn Bragg delves into the cynical aspects and injustices of respectability and religious doctrine, and with compassion he highlights Grace's courage and self sacrifice.

`Grace and Mary' embraces numerous characters including Grace's grandparents, her father and sister, her first love, the father of her child, her employers etc. All are credible, and all are cleverly linked to John's accounts of his visits, both factual and speculative, to weave a truly powerful story with unerring focus that evokes the strong sense of a past insular rural community. Infinite detail is not required, and a great strength of the novel is its even paced simplicity, and by its telling in just over 250 or so pages to allow understanding without degenerating into a strident saga. Melvyn Bragg is well known for informative and thought provoking Cumbrian based novels full of insight and intrigue, and now `Grace and Mary' matches other award winning books, and it well deserves 5-star rating.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written tale, 16 April 2014
By 
L. H. Healy "Books are life, beauty and truth." (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Grace and Mary (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I really liked this novel, set in Cumbria, which tells of John, who is in his seventies, and his mother Mary, in her nineties, and of her mother Grace. The chapters take us back and forth between days in Grace's life and those of John visiting Mary in her nursing home by the sea in Cumbria. It deals with relationships, our pasts, and our memory; Mary is at times losing hers, and John hopes to restore it if he can a little with recollections and imaginings of the past.

Written in wonderful prose, this was a delight to read, very moving and engaging indeed, beautifully drawn characters and a very well told story of three generations, incorporating historical detail and social history and with a rich and atmospheric sense of place. It's told so well within this length - about 250 pages - and reminds me that some novels can accomplish this perfectly well, whereas some that are so much longer these days don't achieve half as much. I haven't done it justice here but this is a lovely book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 27 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Grace and Mary
Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg (Paperback - 13 Mar. 2014)
£6.39
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews