Really delighted today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of Grace After Henry, the second novel by Eithne Shortall, published by Atlantic Books/Corvus in paperback and for kindle on 3rd May. I loved the premise for this book as soon as Anne at Random Things Tours shared it with me: thanks to Anne and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.
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?
Suspension of disbelief is rarely a problem for me, so I suspect that the fact I unexpectedly struggled a bit with the central storyline of this book probably says more about my reading mood than the book itself. The writing is quite superb – a bit Marian Keyes, certainly a touch of Anna McPartlin, but with a style and warmth all of its own. It takes an excellent writer to take an overall theme of grief and loss, and introduce a rich seam of quirky humour that works so very well – the dialogue particularly sparkles throughout. There were a lot of little things I loved too – the reading of The Christmas Carol, the circle of life…
Rather than dwell on why the Grace and Andy story didn’t entirely work for me, I’d sooner focus on what I really did love about this book, and that’s the characterisation. I loved Grace from the very first encounter – having found the house of her dreams in Aberdeen Street, she tours a “reserve” property commenting on faults that might just put off the competition – and I knew she was my kind of girl. There’s a perfectly drawn female friendship with Aoife – I particularly loved the scenes that brought her together with handyman builder Larry Paul (“first name, first name”…),who also grows as a character as the book unfolds. The Three Wise Men are an inspired idea – graveyard humour at its very best and a wonderful “chorus” for the whole story. Grace’s parents are wonderful, with their ongoing battles with the moths, her father’s obsession with reality TV stars, and an infinite capacity for loving and caring. I loved Dermot too – the restaurant owner who tries to ensure that his customers linger as little as possible. But the character who totally made the book for me was the magnificent Betty, the 80 year old curmudgeonly neighbour – the relationship that develops between her and Grace, based on lotto, chocolate biscuits and so much more really touched me to the heart.
The more I think about this book, the more little details I recall and smile about – I really would love to read more from Eithne Shortall.
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.