Grace by Paul Lynch

Grace by Paul Lynch



“[Grace] feels as though it has already claimed its place among great Irish literature”

— BookPage.

“A gifted Irish author…. This is a writer who wrenches beauty even from the horror that makes a starving girl think her “blood is trickling over the rocks of my bones.”
— Kirkus, starred review.

“Wonderful… heart-wrenching.. Lynch’s powerful, inventive language intensifies the poignancy of the woe that characterizes this world of have-nothings struggling to survive.”
— Publishers Weekly, starred review. Book of the week.

““Grace is a masterful sequel to Red Sky in Morning; a beautifully written, lyrical portrait of a young girl coming of age during the Great Famine. Lynch’s Ireland is a land of sadness, harsh reality and starvation, yet there is beauty found in the air, the sky and even the insects. The prose flows like good Irish whiskey and compels readers to keep drinking in Lynch’s words; sometimes so poetic they read like a James Joyce novel.”
— RT Book Reviews.

“In celebrated Irish novelist Lynch’s (The Black Snow, 2015) latest tale, Grace is harshly thrust out into the world by her mother, who can think of no other way to protect her blossoming 14-year-old… As her hardscrabble odyssey continues, she begins to develop in unexpected ways, her eyes opening to both ruthless reality and limitless possibilities. Growing into womanhood as a wanderer, Grace rises above cruel circumstances to control her own destiny in remarkably surprising directions, casting new light on this grim and pivotal era in Irish history.”
– Booklist


– Library Journal—

“A beautifully written novel with a haunting story and deep echoes of the Ancients”.
— Edna O’Brien

“A terrible beauty: Paul Lynch’s Grace is a shudderingly well-written, dead-real, hallucinatory trip across Famine Ireland”.
— Emma Donoghue

“As McCarthy answered Faulkner, Lynch offers the most convincing answer to McCarthy that we’ve seen yet in literature. Lynch sacrifices none of the rigor and menace while summoning an emotional power that leaves one stunned at times. Grace is a novel of surpassing beauty and moral weight, and Lynch is a prodigious talent, with a sorcerer’s command of the language and an extraordinary artistic integrity. This is a masterwork.”
— Matthew Thomas, New York Times-bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves

“A mesmerizing, incandescent work of art. It’s all things together — a tragedy, an adventure, a romance, a coming-of-age, a searing exposition of historical truths; an interrogation of the nature of time and existence. Above all it’s a perfect story, an exhilarating, Odyssean, heart-pounding, glorious story, wrought by a novelist with the eye and the ear and the heart of an absolute master. Paul Lynch is peerless. Grace Coyle, daughter of Coll, will be one of the enduring heroines of world literature.”
— Donal Ryan, Booker-nominated author of The Spinning Heart.

“The power of Paul Lynch’s imagination is truly startling; his ability to inhabit and deeply understand the moments, both slight and shattering, of a life and of an era translates into an instinct not just for story, but for the most hidden, most forceful currents of language and what they can do.”
— Belinda McKeon, author of Tender

“Grace is fierce wonder, a journey that moves with the same power and invention as the girl at its center. What Paul Lynch brings to these pages is more than mere talent—it’s a searing commitment to story and soul, and in witnessing Grace’s transformations, one can’t help but feel changed too. This novel is faith, poetry, lament, and triumph; its mark is not only luminous, but it promises to never fade.”
– Affinity Konar, author of Mischling

“Grace is a thing of power and of wonder, from the savage scalp-shearing of its start, through pages of figurative and literal black, to the ‘good blue days’ of its end. Paul Lynch writes novels the way we need them to be written: as if every letter of every word mattered. This whole book is on fire.”
— Laird Hunt, author of The Evening Road

“If you took the most overwhelming and distilled moments of a life–those instants when even a small brush of the wind over a stream seems to speak to the whole problem of living–and scattered them along an Irish riverside during that country’s great famine, you might arrive at GRACE. This is a major work of lasting, powerful feelings that might find a place amidst your memories of Light in August and Huckleberry Finn.”
– Will Chancellor, author of A Brace Man Seven Storeys Tall


Means great prose
Great sentences
Unconventionally told at times
Memorable road
Memorable characters

Hypnotic and mesmerizing prose at times, haunting at times, a terrible beauty, a tragedy and journey tale of the poor and hungry with a female main protagonist Grace, will she fall from grace? in the harrowing conditions upon earth.
Grace: Tough but also tender innocence against the storm of savagery and desperation.
This author masterly evoking sense of place, scene and people.
Sheer graceful prose in Grace by Paul Lynch

“From a place that is speechless comes the recognition that something in the making up of her world has been unfixed.”

“They stand foreshortened and twisted as if they could find no succor in the shallow earth, were stunted by the sky’s ever-low.”

“Sarah stands away from the table with Bran hanging from her arm. She points to Colly and Finbar. Take a look, Grace. Take a good long look at their faces. The harvest is destroyed, you know that. I’ve tried all over but nobody is giving alms. I am too far gone with child. You have to be responsible now. You must find work and work like a man, for nobody will give but low work to a girl your age. Come back to us then after a season, when your pocket’s full. This meat will get you started.”

“She lies and listens to the pulse of all things. The closing song of the birds. The air stitched with insects. The wind’s voice and how it speaks over everything. Closer still, the sound of her own body. The sound her blunt head makes as it scratches her cradling arm. The breath held short in her mouth. When she squeezes her ears there is a sound like distant thunder, loud enough to drown out her heart. Closer still, and what lies beneath her heart’s thudding, the silent screaming of fear.”

“And she said, what does it mean? And he said, I’ll tell you what it means. It means she’ll be coming right back with her tail between her legs. It means everything is beyond dire and getting worse, for there are men sitting about hungry and idle and they’ll grow violent because that is the way of it. It’s simple economics unless they do something about it—the Crown, he said. And it was then that Mam said the strangest thing I ever heard from her. This is the truth. She said, let her steal for us, then.”

“Colly eyes the man with great seriousness. He says, she’s got the ass cancer. She canny sit right or lie down or stand up or do nothin with it. She’s dying slowly whilst lying sideways. The doctor says she must have caught it sitting down someplace.”

“This night is different from all others, Samhain, the night of the dead. Before it grows dark they must find refuge, for the spirits are allowed to roam the sky tonight. She believes if they leave the town it will be easier to find some unused shelter. It is one thing to face another night in the open but another to be out under a sky filled with demons. They leave the town and in the far-off the hills are hunched against a bullyragging sky. Over a bridge they lean and watch the waters writhe with the spirit of the rain. In the creeping dark they walk past large farmhouses that send out the feeling of being watched with the burning eyes and burning mouths of sentinel turnip lanterns lit to fend off the dead.”

“She will pass through the air like the wind itself, secretive and invisible. Like light as it passes over all things without noise or touch. As delicate as the butterflies that flit her stomach. If only it would rain again to quieten this noise in her head.”

“She has taken first watch but wishes she hasn’t. If the night had eyes what would it see? The outline of her sitting figure. A lamp put to dark. Her eyes like the blind staring into what cannot be seen. She thinks, if the night had ears could it hear the sounds of my heart? Her ears still sounding with Clackton’s talk of bog bodies. The murdered, he had said. Those fallen into death, the drunkards and fools stumbled into bog ruts and never getting out, the pagans drowned in tarns, the young girls ritually killed by throat-cut and left out for the gods, the women stolen from their loved ones by bandits taken up here to be raped, the great warriors who fell forgotten, the chieftains assassinated, the children born with the wrong hand or a bad arm or born to the wrong woman or born too early without the blessing of God, or born with the wrong twin, the crippled and disabled stoned to death behind a bush, the lost and forgotten in the whole of history lying out there in that dark. These boglands are full of such dead, they are resting, waiting with their long brown fingers, their twisty fingernails that keep growing over the thousands of years, waiting to climb out.”

“She watches Clackton grow smaller, his left hand upon the rifle strap. Soundpost holding his blunderbuss as if ready to use it. He eyes the air as if air itself could fold in concealment. He eyes the fields, where shadows could hold crouching shapes to a mind that wants to see it. The unsettling dart of a bird. The world reshaping itself into cunning and disorder. He turns and looks at the empty road behind them, studies the distance. Finally he says, you two. We’re moving on without him. This is a trap, I know it.”

“Wilson clearer now, sees in his left hand a blanket folded thick and smoke rising off it, sees him dump the blanket, sees him throwing to the ground the pistol and producing another from his pocket, cocks it as he walks, and what comes to her is the dark of knowledge that brings to light the world turned inverse, this dark of knowing that sends her into a run shouting Clackton’s name, sees first through the spindled legs of cattle the skywards point of his boots, pushes a cow out of her way to get to him—the man flat to the earth and how she will not forget the eyes, the eyes not of a man but of a grappling child, staring with incomprehension into what cannot be fathomed, his hands painted with blood, his hands quaking and trying to shovel in what has unspooled from his body.”

“She has walked deeper into the deep of the world, spent nameless days on these nameless roads that twist and turn with no ending. There is such weight in this sky, she thinks, clouds of ashes as if the heavens burnt out. In the west she can see far-off lakes that look like mealcakes if you see them in a certain manner, some great river slowing through them.”


Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 28 July 2017