STARRED REVIEW
July 2017

One girl’s odyssey

By Richard Paul Evans

Paul Lynch’s new novel, Grace, opens with a jarring scene: Fourteen-year-old Grace is pulled out of her house one morning in 1845 and dragged to the killing stump by her pregnant mother, who then cuts off her daughter’s hair. Grace is dressed in men’s clothing and cast from the house as her mother declares, “You are the strong one now.” What ensues is a heartbreaking tale of desolation, hunger, loneliness and survival, set during the darkest hour in Irish history.

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Paul Lynch’s new novel, Grace, opens with a jarring scene: Fourteen-year-old Grace is pulled out of her house one morning in 1845 and dragged to the killing stump by her pregnant mother, who then cuts off her daughter’s hair. Grace is dressed in men’s clothing and cast from the house as her mother declares, “You are the strong one now.” What ensues is a heartbreaking tale of desolation, hunger, loneliness and survival, set during the darkest hour in Irish history.

Lynch, who has garnered comparisons to Cormac McCarthy and Colm Tóibín for his previous works Red Sky in Morning and The Black Snow, has woven a sweeping novel that is difficult to properly categorize. While calling upon traditional Irish storytelling, Grace also feels vaguely Dickensian and unfolds through language that’s more like poetry than prose. Even through gruesome parts of the novel—such as the death of Grace’s younger brother or the mildly traumatic experience of her first menstruation—Lynch’s descriptions and turns of phrase are macabrely beautiful.

Readers follow Grace as she wanders the barren countryside, reinventing herself. She is a boy, a man, a cattle herd and even a thief. She speaks with ghosts and struggles to survive. Many would see her mother’s choice to cast her out as harsh, but in comparison to the hardships experienced in the novel, readers come to see that her mother’s choice was actually an act of love, an attempt to help Grace grow and save her from hunger, pain and potentially the hands of her mother’s new lover, Boggs.

Grace offers an intriguing perspective on the concepts of femininity and hardship, one that feels as though it has already claimed its place among great Irish literature.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Grace

Grace

By Richard Paul Evans
Simon & Schuster Audio
ISBN 9780743574839

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