Some books you read in great gasping gulps. You devour them. Each word a gluttonous indulgence that you cannot get enough of. Other books demand patience. They require you to slow down. Rather than devouring the words, you sip them, you taste them. They force you to savor each letter. To let them seep into your bones while the sentences dance themselves into your subconscious.
Grace is such a book.
Paul Lynch writes prose reminiscent of poetry. You will feel the words sing to you, forming a beautiful melody that is hypnotic. “Each star blinking out of an illimitable dark and falling in silence for a blazing brief moment.” The book is filled with sentences and passages that take your breath away in the beauty of their composition.
Grace is about a young woman, living in Ireland during the Great Famine. For reasons she doesn’t quite understand, she is woken on night by her mother to have her hair shorn from her head. She finds herself cast out, being told only, “You are the strong one now.”
She doesn’t know what that means, or why she must leave. Only that she must. So she does.
Her younger brother Colly follows her, and together they find themselves thrust into an unwanted adventure in an Ireland that knows only hunger and desperation.
Grace must lose herself in order to become the boy she needs to be in order to survive. “It’s better to be a butterfly than a worm but what’s the difference really when you can’t be yourself.” Her journey towards self-discovery even more treacherous and dangerous because of the state of men around her.
Every step forward is faced with tragedy. Each piece of good fortune tainted with two more of bad. Grace is continually pummeled with the brunt force of life. She learns that the only thing worse than hunger, is the cold. “”Cold is the truest state of all things and heat is a temporary nature. The cold does not burn itself out in rush like fire but waits with unlimited patience.”
This story is a coming of age told in a harsh and unforgiving light. Some journeys to self discovery are more painful than others, and for Grace, heartache and loss paint her journey.
Lynch doesn’t back away from what must have been a brutal time to live. Hunger can drive a man mad. It can take away one’s humanity. “Though you can learn to ignore hunger, not to give it a single thought, hunger is always thinking of you.”
Grace observes how doors remain closed, heads remain turned. It is better to not see someone struggle. It is better to keep what you have than risk being lost like the rest.
Empty houses and overcrowded graveyards become the landscape of her journey. Beggars and thieves her countrymen.
The beauty of the composition is even more heartbreaking in the tragedy of the story. These are beautiful words describing a horrific time. The harshness of what Lynch describes only soothed by the balm of the words used to describe it.
We can all sympathize with Grace. Finding who we are is never an easy journey. She is forced into the world unprepared and still finds the will to survive. Each sorrow tucked away into a corner of her mind, until she can face them.
There is interesting commentary sprinkled throughout the book on humanity. Should we stop and help our fellow man in hard times, or turn our backs? Or, do we hold onto what we have, waiting for our own opportunities and take what we can, when we can? Death and profit, progress and misfortune are intertwined in this book as in life. Time and again, history has presented us with the chance to show a new face. Time and again we fail.
This book is a saga into the human spirit. How much can a person endure before they are broken? How much can they face before they are beaten down into submission? Survival, we learn, isn’t solely about hunger, or cold, or satiating our basic bodily needs. Survival is about salvation, in whatever form we can find.
Grace finds herself surrounded by freedom, and with that freedom she learns the truth of the word. “Freedom is when you are free to disappear off the earth without anybody knowing.” To be free is to face nothing and fall into that oblivion. There is freedom in the falling. But there is also an empty loneliness. She is obligated to no one and yet craves nothing more than to belong. There is statement of the human condition in this paradox.
Lynch takes us on a journey of despair and redemption. We struggle. We mourn. We laugh and we cry. We lost our hope and find the beauty in life isn’t in the lack of conflict, but despite it. We must see the horror to understand the beauty. We find peace even in the hardest of times.
“This life is light.” In this, Lynch succinctly captures beauty in prose. This life is light, if only we know how to look.
Huge thank you to Little, Brown and Company for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. It comes out July 11, 2017. Link to pre-order below: