Grace After Henry…
About the Book:
Grace sees her boyfriend Henry everywhere. In the supermarket, on the street, at the graveyard.
Only Henry is dead. He died two months earlier, leaving a huge hole in Grace’s life and in her heart. But then Henry turns up to fix the boiler one evening, and Grace can’t decide if she’s hallucinating or has suddenly developed psychic powers. Grace isn’t going mad – the man in front of her is not Henry at all, but someone else who looks uncannily like him. The hole in Grace’s heart grows ever larger.
Grace becomes captivated by this stranger, Andy – to her, he is Henry, and yet he is not. Reminded of everything she once had, can Grace recreate that lost love with Andy, resurrecting Henry in the process, or does loving Andy mean letting go of Henry?
I’m going to state right up front that this novel is nothing like what the blurb indicates. It’s so much more and then some, making it a really tricky one to review because I don’t want to give even a hint of a spoiler. I didn’t have one, so you can’t either! This is one of those novels that you want to go into fairly blind.
Irish fiction has long been a favourite of mine, harking back to my twenties when I used to devour Maeve Binchy, Cathy Kelly, and Sheila O’Flannagan like they were my main nourishment. I still love these authors and a few more have been added to my auto-buy list over the years and after reading Grace After Henry, Eithne Shortall has earned her place there as well. Gosh she’s a good author, striking an impeccable balance between Irish humour and the desperately heartbreaking reality of grieving for a loved one as well as coming to terms with a lost future. Her prose is like a string and she knows just when to pull it taut and when to slacken it off.
Grace After Henry is such a strong novel, both in characterisation and story – it really has it all. I laughed, I cried, and then I did both at the same time. Aoife, Grace’s best friend is an absolute crack, as is Betty, her eighty year old neighbour. I loved Grace’s parents, I loved her boss and co-workers, I loved her handyman Larry, I loved The Three Wisemen, and I loved Grace herself. And I especially loved Andy. There was such a vibrant dynamic to the character interactions, a natural flow that was immersive and incredibly atmospheric. I finished this novel quite late at night but I found myself missing these characters while settling down to sleep.
Alongside themes of grief, past practices of forced adoption are examined in detail. I have to say, as outraged as I have been about forced adoption in Australia’s history, it’s not even a patch on Ireland. What a sad and traumatic history. So many young women and so many babies that have grown into adulthood having to come to terms with such a devastating legacy. I really appreciated such sensitive insight into this issue.
Grace After Henry is utterly brilliant. So much so, I sent a friend of mine a picture of it partway through reading, recommending it to her, knowing that she would love it just as much as me. Grace After Henry is a perfect example of UpLit – uplifting literature. Despite its heartbreakingly tragic beginning, it’s such a life affirming read, so uplifting, a series of sparkling serendipitous moments strung together yet grounded in reality, and so uniquely Irish. It was a beautiful reading experience from beginning to end.
Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy of Grace After Henry for review.
About the Author:
Eithne Shortall studied journalism at Dublin City University and has lived in London, France and America. Now based in Dublin, she is chief arts writer for the Sunday Times Ireland. She enjoys sea swimming, cycling and eating scones.
Paperback: ISBN – 9781786493873