Grace by Paul Lynch
Little, Brown and Company, 2017; 368 pp
Reviewed by Kimberly Gibson
This flood October. And in the early light her mother goes for her, rips her from sleep, takes her from a dream of the world. She finds herself arm-hauled across the room, panic shot loose to the blood.
So begins the harrowing tale of Paul Lynch’s eponymous protagonist in Grace. Grace is a 14-year-old Irish peasant girl trying to survive blight-induced potato shortages in the mid-1800s. Forcibly ejected from her family, Grace, in the guise of a boy and accompanied by her wisecracking little brother, traverses the surrounding country in search of shelter and work.
It’s no wonder some have been describing the novel as “Dickensian”—poverty and suffering feature ubiquitously. However, unlike Dickensian protagonists, Grace hardly has a chance to grow as a character. Rather, the novel seems to chart her mental fragmentation in the first several acts. Because the primary enemies are always danger and starvation, there is room for little identity.
If this sounds less than thrilling, that’s because it is, and it’s a shame that a story with the linguistic muscle of Paul Lynch’s syntax and imagery nearly flatlines when it comes to plot and character development. Instead of copious descriptions of starving, faceless masses, it would have been better to have more Dickensian villains populating the pages. To make matters worse, almost every major plot turn in the story relies on the threat of rape.
Though I was disappointed here, I’d like to read something else by Lynch to catch daring lines like “She dragons smoke out of her nose” or “shadows that reach and consume and dissolve into the one dark as if everything were just play to this truthdark all along.”