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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( 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.
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on 16 September 2013
I have read most of Melvyn Bragg books and thoroughly enjoyed them all but I am struggling a bit with this one. I thought it was expensive for a kindle book but then I thought I must have it! Without going into detail (that's not me) I am only about a quarter way through and maybe it'll get better. For me there has been too much abstract thought, but again that's maybe just setting the context---which I admit is an usual one, ie a son meeting with his mother who is suffering from alzheimers and trying to help her end her life with some happy memories. A difficult subject and one I have personal experience of although I never managed to achieve any happiness for him (my dad). I will re-review this book in time-I'm a slow reader-(bedtime only) and hope I begin to enjoy it more.
I've finished the book...and I cried. Such a sensitive story so lovingly written by someone who clearly has been there ...or understands the subject so well. It was heartbreakingly accurate. My Dad and Mother-in-law had similar ends to Mary. I just wish I had been able to read this book beforehand to see if I could have made thing easier for them. How could I have doubted you Melvyn Bragg!?
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( 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.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( 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.
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on 8 August 2015
Sensitively written and a very readable book, this takes you on a journey into the narrator's past. The book centres on two strong women, Grace, and her daughter, Mary, who is in a care home and suffering from dementia. Through tracing the story of firstly Grace, with ironically the disgrace in the public eye of having an illegitimate child and the consequences for the family, we come to know and understand Mary, and their influence on Mary's son, John. The book gives convincing accounts of the progress of dementia and the loving care she receives from John and the care home. At times sad, happy and heartwarming, this is an beautiful and elegantly written book which will strike a chord with all carers.
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on 26 February 2014
I ordered this book in advance on Kindle. I was surprised when it arrived, and just opened it - really to remind myself why I was interested in it. I never put it down till I'd finished it. Bragg's ability to move between the two time separated stories is masterful, and just at the point when I felt I should put the book down, the story would move to the second story and I was re-hooked. A great read - but don't pick it up if you want to do anything else!
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on 20 June 2016
What a magnificent study. I came to this book via a free study course at Future Learn which I would highly recommend. Literature and Mental Health. This is a must read for anyone who wants to get an insight into how and what makes people tick. Wonderful. Robin Kellow.
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on 2 January 2016
A well written insight into a man dealing with his mother who has dementia and is in a nursing home. He obviously has huge love for her and can't bear to see what is happening to her as time goes by. He seems to be desperately clutching at ideas to try to "bring her back", such as singing songs which she seems to love to join in with, and talking about events from her younger days. The story of her childhood occupies most of the book and is told with obvious affection and empathy. Eventually he has to accept that all of the things he has been trying won't actually make any difference, but the reader is left with a sense that he feels he has tried his very best to transport her, if only for a short time, back to happier days. Obviously written using Melvyn Bragg's experience with his own mother.
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on 31 May 2013
A well written sad but happy book at times. Anyone who works in care especially those dealing with dementia, should read it as it does make you think. Melvyn has a way of getting to the heart of the issue, making you think it comes from first hand knowledge.
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on 9 June 2015
A warm, beautifully written book. Took a few pages to get into, but then thoroughly immersed in the stories of Grace and Mary, who were well characterised and sensitively described . I felt drawn into their stories. Beautiful descriptions if place and time, I really enjoyed this book. One to read slowly and immerse yourself in the story.
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