Fallen Grace is a rags to riches tale of the very best kind and filled with the characters that make this kind of book so compelling. There is tragic Grace, poor and badly treat yet hard working, kind and fiercely loyal; the detestable Unwin family, rich, cruel and conniving and the handsome young solicitor Mr James Solent, champion of the underdog. It reminds me of those saga's I would steal from my Mum's bookshelves. I did love reading those books but often found them too long, spanning such a lengthy time period I would get bored or frustrated at yet another tragedy for the poor heroine. Covering just a year in Fifteen year old Grace's life, Mary Hooper's latest book doesn't suffer this problem. It has everything needed for a deliciously juicy saga, but the story is contained and my attention was captured throughout the 300 pages.
I loved our heroine, Grace. She is tragic enough to gain sympathy but strong enough not to become pitying. Orphaned young and left to take care of her disabled older sister, despite the awful situation she finds herself in she remains loyal and loving. Her sister Lily is adorable, a young child in the body of a young woman her simplistic naivety at the world is touching, although of course in the surrounding London slums, dangerous and extremely trying too. The other characters in the book are also extremely vivid, no matter how small their part and all of them were brought to life in my mind. I could almost see the book playing out as one of those Sunday evening TV drama adaptations as I read.
The setting of the book is described with such detail that while reading I felt transported to 19th century England. With a backdrop of the highly prosperous and opulent Victorian funeral industry the story is deliciously sinister and macabre, without being gruesome.I didn't know just how many rituals and rules of etiquette there were surrounding mourning dress. It was fascinating! As well, there are all the extravagant trimmings to ensure you give your wealthy loved one the most fashionable of send off's, disguised as being 'respectful and proper' although largely made up by the Funeral industry itself to further enhance their finances. The amount of research Mary Hooper must have undertook to write this book is clear, and it pays off as the book is extremely interesting as well as being a fantastic read.
I thoroughly enjoyed Fallen Grace. The historical detail and the bizarre Funeral industry setting make it an original, interesting and sinister read. With character's leaping from the pages and description that will take you right to the heart of Victorian London, it's a book to curl up cosy with and savour every last bit. There are some difficult themes such as rape and abuse mentioned, although neither in graphic detail (it happens before the book begins and so is mentioned but not described) and I think this book would appeal to fans of historical fiction of any age from age 12+ or for anyone with an interest in this period of history.
on 22 June 2010
I found the story created by Mary Hooper in Fallen Grace to be completely mesmerising. We are drawn into Grace's life immediately and we follow her as she encounters one obstacle after another.
Death was a large feature of Victorian England and Mary Hooper explored so many different aspects of this fascinating subject. All of the characters and events in Grace's life are linked to death in some way. She meets both her biggest enemy and her most loyal ally at Brookwood Cemetery. Mourning was such a prominent part of Victorian life, especially when Prince Albert died which is an event included in this story.
The Unwins are a brilliant creation, there is something deliciously sinister about them. Their business is to make as much money as possible out of someones death. Whilst presenting themselves as respectable undertakers, their business dealings are extremely devious and devoid of morals.
I think that Grace's character embodied what it must have been like to have been one of the Victorian poor. Grace is placed in so many desperate situations in order to provide enough for her and her sister Lily, however, she remains dignified throughout.
I don't want to give anything away about the plot in this review as it would spoil the book for others. It is extremely good though and the author has you on the edge of your seat on several occasions in the book.
If you like historical fiction then I would definitely give this one a go. I read it in one sitting and I am looking forward to catching up with some of Mary Hooper's previous books.
If this novel had been around when I was at the right age to read it I am sure it would been adored it, in the same way I avidly read and reread A Little Princess until my copy fell to pieces and helped develop my taste in Victorian literature.
Now I am (much) older I enjoyed reading it--but in a different way. I can appreciate everything that has gone into creating it and just what an accomplished young adult novelist Mary Hooper is. She has taken all the elements of Victorian literature: (especially the novels of Charles Dickens who even makes a cameo appearance) the exposure of hypocrisy and social ills and the huge gulf between rich and poor and remodelled them afresh for the young twenty-first century reader.
In doing so, she has created a heart-warming rags-to-riches story that will appeal to today's young readers. Grace, like Oliver Twist, suffers abuse, poverty and hardship but lacks any sickly sanctimoniousness which often marred Victorian fiction so that it no longer appeals to us. It is a master-stroke to give her Lily as a sister for it it is her love for her that wins our admiration.
And throughout the novel, young readers will learn a wealth of information about class differences, the Victorian attitude to death; the traps that await the unwary, the iniquities of baby-farming, the double-standards that prevailed in the name of Christian charity and just how vulnerable poor children were then. (The Unwins are a gloriously creepy family well worthy of Dickens!) However, the novel never feels like a history lesson. The author creates exactly the right balance.
Some reviewers have complained about the sensationalism of the plot; the chase through the London smog, documents hidden in coffins, people dropping dead of fright. However, this is so right for the period. If you've read as many Victorian novels as I have, you'll understand just how clever Mary Hooper is.
Not only has she written a Victorian novel for modern times, it is a great homage to an era in which crime fiction had its beginnings and saw the heyday of what is today known as the Gothic. Great stuff!
The day Grace Parks gave birth to a stillborn child in a building serving only those in abject poverty, a little bit of luck falls her way. She is told that she could put the body of the infant into a coffin on the Metropolis Railway, which serves London by transporting bodies and mourners to Brookwood Cemetery. The midwife gives her money to complete the journey there and back, after which Grace is on her own to try and survive with her elder sister Lily, who'd be described as educationally subnormal now, but then seen as "simple". At a time of great change in London, old slum houses were being emptied and knocked down, giving way to larger and cleaner buildings, and of course the laying of London's underground rail system, the first lines of which were cut and cover (cut the tunnel from street level down, and then cover over). It is during this time of change that Grace and Lily have to find somewhere else to live, and Grace takes up the offer of a job and accommodation with a leading London undertaker as a "mute" - children and young people who stood by the church doors looking mournful. There was a huge trade in the mourning of the dead at this time, and very large amounts of money to be made for those clever enough.
It's a heart in the mouth story. Will Grace (and Lily of course) survive? Who is the father of Grace's dead child? Will the villians suffer and get their comeupance? It would spoil the story to give you these answers, but they are all there in this well researched childrens'/young adult novel, which was nominated for the Carnagie Medal. Easy to read, but full of fascinating information, together with several pages of research information at the end of the book, this book is hard to put down once picked up.
Fifteen-year old Grace buys a ticket for the Necropolis Railway, the Victorian train service for the transportation of the dead. She carries a "precious burden" and when nobody is looking inserts her child's body into the coffin of a rich philanthropist, whose funeral she then attends. As a result, she attracts the attention of the dead woman's brother, a lawyer, and also of a family of undertakers who hire her as a "mute" or professional mourner.
Mary Hooper's Fallen Grace is, by any standards, an exceptional novel. Pale, frail Grace has to survive from day to day, and ensure that her sweet but vulnerable elder sister does, too. They live in London's notorious Seven Dials, "no place to raise a child". It spoils nothing to say that we suspect from the first that not only is Grace's baby is the result of rape, but that the midwife who tells her to "just think of it as a dream, a story...something that never really happened" has in fact sold the child to a rich couple, and tricked her into burying a loaf of bread.
Mary Hooper has written six previous historical novels, all of them very good indeed, but this one is her breakthrough. The writing, characterisation, plotting and atmosphere are first-rate, and deserve prizes. The fact that Fallen Grace slots into the limited National Curriculum approved period for History is an incidental bonus, for though it draws on the Victorian cult of mourning, it feels impelled by the very marrow of Dickensian compassion. These are characters you care for, or loathe. The mask of respectability used by the Unwins, the cunning and conniving of Grace's midwife, the cruel pomposity of the Royal Courts of Justice, the fear of being taken for a prostitute when desititute are all things that the young adult reader will find harrowing. This is, as the previous reviewer has noted, an "old fashioned" novel with goodies and baddies - and all the better for that, say I.
The agonising details about the two sisters just surviving by selling bunches of watercress are worked into the story of a powerful and touching relationship. Grace's devotion to Lily is real, as is her ingenuity and resilience in the face of Lily's trusting naivety. The sisters are cheated, bullied and made homeless once slum clearance begins, but when separated by the vilely wily Unwins, you just can't turn the pages fast enough. How the Unwins plot to cheat Grace and Lily out of a fortune; how Grace gets a most unexpected revenge and how Lily proves herself to be far more sensible than expected is totally absorbing. Though only 300 pages long, it has the depth of detail and plotting that makes it feel like a book twice as big. I hope Hooper ventures into the Victorian era again, because these are genuinely comparable to Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart trilogy.
on 8 September 2011
Really enjoyable novel - I just wish all the author's work was available on Kindle. I've become far to accustomed to clicking "download" and being able to read instantly and just can't be bothered to wait for print books to arrive anymore! This reminded me of the Sally Lockhary novels in the sense of being transported to Victorian London. This author shares Pullman's ability to paint vivid pictures with words. My only gripe: I wanted it to last longer!
Mary Hooper is a prolific author of well over fifty novels who in recent years has turned her hand to historical fiction sometimes (but not always) aimed at the Young Adult market, and Fallen Grace is one such example - a very good one too. Set in Victorian London in the mid-1800s, it is based on a mid-teen girl called Grace Parkes and her slightly older sister Lily who cannot read or write because she has not had a proper education. At the very beginning of the tale, Grace gives birth to a baby who her midwife tells her will die, so the child is taken away. Grace and Lily have no parents of their own and are desperately poor, and a chance meeting with a wealthy lady at a railway station provides a welcome opportunity to improve their situation - Grace gets a job at an undertakers while Lily gets a job as a maid for the same family: the Unwins.
My eleven year old daughter had this to say: "I think that Fallen Grace is a great book because it looks like it had lots of research put in to it and offers a vivid description of what it was like on London streets 150 years ago, I felt like I was actually there. There are evil, cunning and treacherous villains that help to create tension and suspense. Grace is a likeable, loyal and brave character and is described as a beautiful girl.
"I would say that this book is good for girls that enjoy historical books filled with sly villains and a courageous leading character, aimed at aged eleven and above. Overall it was a great read, one of my favourite books and one I won't forget."
I loved this young adult read, and will definitely be looking out for more books by Mary Hooper. Set in 1861 and featuring young Grace, and her sister Lily, who Grace looks after, as despite being the younger of the two in age, Grace is more worldly-wise than the sweet but more naïve Lily. Forced through circumstances which are revealed in the novel to leave the orphanage where they had future plans, they now live in poverty and scratch out a meagre amount of money buying and selling watercress, though the proceeds of this barely keeps them in food and rent. At the start of the novel, we meet poor Grace as she is in the process of carrying out a tragic act, and at her destination she meets two people who will come to play very different but equally influential roles in her life, Mr Solent and Mrs Unwin.
It's a cracking story, an exciting plot, with cruel villains, a very likeable heroine and some amiable kindly folk too. The atmosphere and period setting is evoked beautifully, there's even a mention for a certain Mr Dickens and for Prince Albert. I felt I was transported back to Victorian times as I was reading. I was rooting for kind, hard-working Grace, hoping that her fortunes would change and that justice would be done. The descriptions of the fascination with mourning, and the elaborate graveyard decorations of the period are very vivid. I loved discovering the Necropolis railway and Brookwood cemetery, all very dark and mysterious. A fabulous and highly recommended read.
Grace and Lily are young sisters in a desperate situation; living hand-to-mouth and fending for themselves after the death of their mother. They remember happier times, when they had some money and some security, but now every day is a struggle for survival. At the mercy of other peoples whims, the weather, and random chance, with the rest of the world out to take what little they have, life goes from bad to worse, and they are left destitute.
Grace is pregnant after a rape; considering herself a 'fallen woman' she eventually finds a midwife who will help her deliver her baby, but he is stillborn. Distraught, she nonetheless finds the strength to bury him in the only way she can, and to return to her older sister, who has what would now be called 'learning difficulties' and could not survive without her. But life is harsh, and she has to make choices and take work she hates just to keep herself and Lily alive.
It is a harrowing and thought-provoking story of a girl's determination to survive, her resourcefulness, and reluctant use of the rare help offered to her. It is also a story of the harshness of Victorian life and the unscrupulous and remorseless side of human nature. There was one episode I found ridiculously unbelievable, but it was convenient for the plot, and did not detract from the story overall.
This is the story of Grace Parkes, and her simple-minded sister, Lily. Orphaned, they are now making their own way in the world after having to leave a training establishment when Grace found herself pregnant. In unfortunate circumstances, the sisters find themselves drawn into the world of Victorian mourning, working for the unscupulous Unwin family.
This is a nice enough book. It kept my interest and was just about the right length, and I liked the character of Grace, but ultimately it left me feeling a little flat. It was interesting to read about what a big business mourning was in the 19th century, and I particularly liked the little adverts or calling cards that appeared at the beginning of most of the chapters. However, the story contained some really ridiculous coincidences and the whole thing was quite predictable.
I imagine this book would appeal to young girls, and to be fair, that is who it is aimed at, but for me it was pleasant enough but nothing special.