- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Portobello Books Ltd (28 Jan. 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1846271843
- ISBN-13: 978-1846271847
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 19.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 164 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 341,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Days of Grace Paperback – 28 Jan 2010
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About the Author
CATHERINE HALL was born in the Lake District in 1973. She worked in documentary film production before becoming a freelance writer and editor for a range of charities specialising in human rights and development. This is her first novel
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Chapters telling the story of Nora's time in Kent and her return to London are interspersed with chapters telling the story of Nora as an old woman, dying of cancer, of her close friendship with Rose, a young single mother whose baby Nora delivers and names Grace, and of her realization that in order to die she must confront the past, and the terrible jealousy which still threatens to plague her.
This is powerful writing, simple, but eloquent. There are some wonderful descriptions of the Kent countryside and of Nora's love of her lessons with Reverend Rivers, her awakening love of literature, and her observations of the Rivers home. In the sections dealing with the elderly Nora, Catherine Hall writes movingly with no tendency to melodrama about Nora's illness, and I found the stories of Nora's marriage, and of Rose the young single mother and David, Nora's nurse, fascinating. I really cared about all three of them and the strange 'home' they established as Nora was dying. For me, the book had one problem - it's always difficult to create a character with a nameless charisma, and I didn't feel that the character of Grace ever quite merited the adoration Nora bestowed on her. And I didn't feel that Hall wanted the reader to think that Nora was wasting her feelings on Grace - I think that we were meant to feel, with Nora, that Grace WAS really special. But I never found her that interesting; not nearly as much so as Nora's husband, for example. Grace appeared to have no interests apart from flirting and clothes and make-up; I couldn't quite see why Nora adored her so much, particularly as Grace clearly manipulated her. I also felt the story of Grace's father ended a little abruptly (he began as a very interesting character) - I would have liked to have heard more about what happened to him. And I wondered whether Nora might not have thought a little more about her lesbian longings, or had feelings for other women after Grace; she seemed to rather quickly write her feelings off as 'wrong' - but I guess, in the period in which Nora was growing up, this was what many women would have done.
A very brave, and very original novel though, and I'm looking forward to reading Hall's second book, which I've bought.
The plot is decent enough and the writing is quite good, but at almost all points it lacks that extra something that puts a writer in the class of, for example, Susan Hill or Rose Tremain. What is that something? Difficult to explain, but it involves a depth of character and a depth of descriptive writing that holds you with every sentence. This book, though completely sincere and decent, is just a little too bland in the writing. Consequently the story-telling is not as gripping as the excellent plot requires. In addition (or 'plus', in the horrid modern vernacular) the vitally important character of the spiv in the later stages of the book is no more than cardboard, and his death is unconvincing. On the other hand, the writer handles very well the 'illness' sequences, both that of Grace and that of the narrator herself. So I give it about 6.5 out of 10, or 7 if I am feeling generous to a first novel (if that is what it is).
The story pops backwards and forwards in time between the war and the current time. I usually find this quite frustrating, but I quickly became quite used to it in this book and realised it was necessary for the story. My only criticism is the cover for the book depicting two fair haired girls playing in a poppy field. The author clearly tells us Nora is dark haired compared to Grace who is fair haired.
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