Days Of Grace By Catherine Hall – A Review

Publisher: Granta

Publication Date: 28/1/2010

I read and really enjoyed The Proof Of love by Catherine Hall, and immediately had a look to see what else she had written.  I love it when that happens, when you are so certain of the quality of an author’s work based on reading just one of their books.

I picked up a copy of Days Of Grace secondhand and it has been sitting on my shelf for a good while.  I recently went through a phase of wanting to pick up and read some of my own books rather than heading to the brand new proofs I felt I had to read (I think we all feel this way from time to time, right?) and I was glad I’d finally picked it up.

The book opens with us meeting Nora.  A woman in the latter years of her life who lives alone and seems to keep herself isolated.  She is ill and is convinced she has cancer, however she is unwilling to seek any help from the doctor.  Nora notices a young woman sitting in the window of the house opposite hers and takes to watching her everyday.  She then realises that this young woman is pregnant, and watches the bump growing as the weeks and months pass, still never having had any actual contact with her. When the time comes for the baby to be born, Nora becomes involved in the birth and pretty soon realises that the young girl Rose is quite alone as she is.  They strike up a friendship and Rose moves into Nora’s house with the new baby which Nora names Grace.

Then we flit back in time to Nora as a 12 year old during the Second World War, at the point she is evacuated from London into the Kent countryside, leaving her mother behind and being taken in by The Reverend Rivers and his wife, and young daughter Grace. Nora is welcomed into the family and Grace immediately becomes a dear dear friend.  Grace and Nora spend their days roaming the fields, playing games and making their own entertainment, with their bond growing ever stronger.

When the time comes for Nora to possibly be sent back home, the decision is taken to let her stay with the Rivers family as Nora feels this is where she rightly belongs even though she misses her mother dearly.  The Reverend Rivers and his wife do not have a happy marriage, The Reverend choosing to spend his time sequestered away, alone, writing his sermons and praying.  Mrs Rivers spends a lot of her time at the piano, playing melancholy tunes.  The girls are more or less left to their own devices, not schooled in the traditional sense, just given some lessons by Reverend Rivers every now and again.

As the years roll by and the war rumbles on a now teen Nora realises that her feelings for Grace run much deeper than friendship and when tragedy strikes back home in London and strange tensions reach a new height in the Rivers’ house, Nora finds herself drawn back home, with her beloved Grace in tow.

When they reach bomb stricken London, the girls have to navigate the destroyed streets, finding a place to stay and trying to keep themselves safe.  When they meet a generous enigmatic stranger their fortunes take an upturn, however Nora is not happy with the every burgeoning relationship between Grace and their benefactor.

Back in the present day narrative, Nora is becoming weaker by the day, the cancer ravaging her body.  She has Rose and baby Grace for company but she often thinks back to her days with Grace and her time spent in Kent.

It is during these present day narratives that Nora lets slip little inklings that something devastating happened during her years in London with Grace, which then had repercussions for the rest of her life. As she loses her grip on life she allows her memories to flood back, taking hold and dragging her under. But just what happened between her and Grace? How did she end up nearing the end of her days alone? and what could she have done differently?

I do love a story set around WW2 and it’s even better if there is a dual timeline narrative, made even better still by there being one central character who spans both timelines. I also have a soft spot for an old lady, someone who has lived quite a life and has allowed it to shape her, not always for the better.

The fact that there is a secret that is hinted at throughout this book also kept me invested.  I had an inkling of what it might be but I wasn’t entirely proved right!

The relationships between the females in this story are beautifully written and deftly handled.  We of course have the main relationship between Nora and Grace as young girls, surviving the war together in the Kent countryside.  Bonding and growing up together as close as any two girls can be.  Nora is the more timid and reserved of the two, the quiet thinker, the more composed.  Grace is the impetuous one, the girl who longs to get out and see something of the world, the girl who loves to take a risk, break the rules and just grab life with both hands.  Their personalities compliment each other perfectly.

Their relationship evolves once they return to war torn London and Nora has to become somewhat of a protector, the adult in the relationship.  Trying to keep them both safe, keep them both with a roof over their heads whilst Grace is still hell bent on doing what she wants and living quite precariously in the moment. These two vibrant girls and are very different but equally charming.

Catherine Hall has the great of ability of being able to write characters that you become highly invested in and really care for.

This book is an absolute gem and I would urge you to give it a try.  Also, if you’ve not read The Proof Of Love, grab yourself a copy of that too!

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat x

 

 

 

 

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