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?
Reading this book uninterrupted for an entire day whilst stretching out on a sunbed looking out over *that* view has to be one of my most pleasurable experiences of 2018 so far. Being a busy teacher, it isn’t often that I get to indulge myself by spending a whole day reading a book from cover to cover – but I’m so glad that I did get this chance to immerse myself in Grace’s story and discover this fantastic read.
This book is everything that a holiday read should be – warm-hearted, filled with characters that you both believe in and care about and wonderfully written. Grace’s bereavement is brought horribly to life and we see the full effect it wreaks on her as everyone else’s life goes on, uninterrupted all around her.
The pain and disbelief that she experiences are brought to life for us as we experience right alongside Grace the destructive bleakness of realising that the forever-home you’ve just bought with the love of your life is now yours alone after his sudden and traumatic death. The dark days after Henry’s death are full of tiny details that I really connected with – I don’t want to give any spoilers but I will tell you that if you’ve been through a recent bereavement you’ll definitely find much to connect with here.
Although this is a book about loss and how we all have to find our own path through grief, there is much to laugh about scattered through its pages. I know that there have been many writers hailed as the ‘next Marian Keyes’ over the last 20 years – but I seriously feel like I haven’t felt that same level of skill in juxtaposing absolutely awful situations with moments of sheer hilarity since I first read Watermelon way back in 2007.
Grace’s parents are brought to life just as delightfully as any of Keyes’ legendary family portraits and there are plenty of one-liners that you’ll be absolutely dying to share. I absolutely loved her dad and his obsession with celebrity gossip and his tendency to get things a little mixed-up was absolutely hilarious. My favourite slip-of-the-tongue was ‘Sex-Mice’ instead of Love Rat and I think I’ll definitely be adopting this one in real life…
Grace after Henry has exactly the right balance – you are absolutely rooting for Grace whilst at the same time questioning some of her life choices and getting frustrated with some of the ways that she deals with this awful period in her life. I mean we’ve all experienced loss – but how many of us get the experience of meeting another version of the person we’ve lost and having them fix our boiler or rub our feet when we need it most?
The situation Grace finds herself in is a very challenging one and it’s sure to provoke much discussion if it’s chosen for your book group. I immediately lent it to my mum to read – on the adjacent sunlounger – so that I could talk it over with someone as I just felt that I HAD to. You’ll end up finishing this book feeling like you know Grace and that’s the highest compliment you can really give to a book; I really loved it and I’m going to be recommending it to everyone as it’s such a special and lovely book.
As a general rule, I’d avoid a book that people were calling ‘heartwarming’ but Grace after Henry is heartwarming in the very best way. It deals with loss not by talking about Grace’s loss – but by allowing us to live through it with her and experience all the stages of grief that she has to wade through alongside her. It is written with sensitivity, intelligence and a wonderfully warm sense of humour and I can’t wait to read more by Eithne Shortall. If you’re heading off somewhere lovely this summer, Grace after Henry is the perfect book to pack – it not only packs an emotional punch, it will also make you laugh so hard at times that you’ll spill your afternoon cocktail. I *might* know someone who actually did…
Buy yourself a copy here, you definitely won’t regret it:
I’d like to thank Anne Cater & Corvus Books for inviting me onto the Blog Tour – why don’t you check out some of these other fab bloggers over the next week or so
Writer on the Shelf
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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