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?
It's my very great pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for Grace After Henry by Eithne Shortall today. My grateful thanks to the author, publishers and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my copy of the novel.
Like Grace, I have experienced the pain and shock of a sudden loss. In my case it was my brother who died but there is so much of this wonderful novel that was familiar to me. It's over five years since he died but I remember those times when I would catch a glimpse of somebody driving a car and they'd looked so much like him that I caught my breath for a moment until reality kicked in again and I remembered I had identified his body in the hospital mortuary and stood on a wet and windy hillside when we sprinkled his ashes. Eithne Shortall captures those early days of grief with such poignant accuracy, I physically ached with the pain and loneliness Grace was feeling. She perfectly encapsulates too, the self-centred nature of grief, when all thoughts are turned inwards as you try to make sense of this new actuality. Later in the novel there's a moment where Grace suddenly considers her pain may not have been the greatest; it's a pivotal moment in the story and is written with such a stark and honest beauty that I read it with the tears streaming down my face.
And yet, Grace After Henry is also a brilliantly funny book, I laughed out loud many times. The Three Wise Men at the cemetery with terrible jokes and little nuggets of wisdom deserve a spin-off novel of their own; Grace's irascible neighbour, Betty accuses Grace of being bad luck when she fails to win the Telly Bingo and is a dreadful gossip but her sharp tongue hides a softer side; and her parents dress up for a meal at Nando's, wage a fierce battle against moths and in the case of her mother confuse the term 'love rat' with the far better phrase (and one I'm going to use from now on), 'sex mice'! Grace's memories of her time with Henry are also infused with humour and warmth, their relationship is never rose-tinted, they bickered like any couple but the easy-going teasing between the pair underlines that theirs was a deep love cruelly cut short by a tragic accident.
When Andy comes into Grace's life he seems to be her second chance at happiness and as they grow closer she begins to blur the lines where he begins and Henry ends. She knows he isn't the same man but he fits into the space left behind, he reads A Christmas Carol with her, he wears Henry's slippers and as they both try to make sense of their past and future it is understandable that they cling to one another, driven by a need to belong to someone. This is such a touchingly perceptive novel which examines the swirling mass of emotions which accompany loss - numbness, loneliness, anger, fear - but also the gradual acceptance that comes with time and the realisation that though the memories of a life and love shared are unbearably painful at times, they are also the balm which eases the anguish.
I shed many tears reading this book but they were from laughter as often as they were from sadness - despite the tragic subject matter this never feels a maudlin story. Grace After Henry is quite simply a very special novel. Full of heart, it is an honest, emotional and life-affirming paean to love. Beautifully written with wit, empathy and charm, I adored every word and cannot recommend Grace After Henry highly enough, it is undoubtedly one of my books of the year.
Grace After Henry will be published on 3rd May 2018 by Corvus Books and can be pre-ordered or purchased here. Don't miss the other stops on the blog tour, details are below.
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.
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