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Cover image for Grace : a novel
Grace : a novel
First edition.
New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2017.
Physical Description:
354 pages ; 25 cm
Cast out of her home by her mother, Grace, disguised as a boy and accompanied by her younger brother, embarks on a life-changing odyssey in the looming shadow of Ireland's Great Famine.
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Call Number
Lynch, P.
Lynch, P.

On Order



A Paris Review Staff Pick
An Esquire Best Book of 2017
A sweeping, Dickensian story of a young girl on a life-changing journey across nineteenth-century Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine
Early one October morning, Grace's mother snatches her from sleep and brutally cuts off her hair, declaring, "You are the strong one now." With winter close at hand and Ireland already suffering, Grace is no longer safe at home. And so her mother outfits her in men's clothing and casts her out. When her younger brother Colly follows after her, the two set off on a remarkable odyssey in the looming shadow of their country's darkest hour.

The broken land they pass through reveals untold suffering as well as unexpected beauty. To survive, Grace must become a boy, a bandit, a penitent and, finally, a woman-all the while afflicted by inner voices that arise out of what she has seen and what she has lost.

Told in bold and lyrical language by an author who has already been called "one of his generation's very finest novelists" (Ron Rash, author of The Risen ), Grace is an epic coming-of-age novel and a poetic evocation of the Irish famine as it has never been written.

Author Notes

Paul Lynch is the author of the novels Red Sky in Morning and The Black Snow . He won France's Prix Libr'à Nous for Best Foreign Novel, and was a finalist for the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book Prize). He lives in Dublin with his wife and daughter.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lynch's (Red Sky in Morning) wonderful third novel follows a teenage girl through impoverished Ireland at the height of the Great Famine. Grace Coyle is 14 in 1844, when her mother dresses her as a boy and sends her off to find work to save herself and her destitute family. Grace travels with her 12-year-old brother, Colly, south from Urris Hills. Before they reach Donegal, Colly dies, but his ghost continues to accompany Grace, alerting her to dangers that prove far more plentiful than food or employment. Mistaken for a hireling named Tim, Grace finds work on a cattle drive and a road-building project. She then ends up an itinerant drifter alongside one-armed John Bart. What John and Grace cannot earn, they steal; the ghost of a woman killed during a botched robbery also becomes Grace's traveling companion. Grace eventually makes her way to Limerick before heading home, persisting even when she loses the ability to speak. In Gaelic-lilted poetic prose, Lynch evokes nearly five years of misery: the Samhain (end-of-harvest festival) after flooding destroys the harvest, wintry deprivation, endless days on nameless roads, starvation, and desperation. Heart-wrenching images include Grace's pregnant mother dragging Grace to the killing stump to chop off her hair, Grace eating stolen seed potatoes, and much worse. Lynch's powerful, inventive language intensifies the poignancy of the woe that characterizes this world of have-nothings struggling to survive. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

A gifted Irish author offers another take on his country's Great Famine through the eyes of a teenage girl as she travels through a land wracked by want.When a blight hits the potato harvest of 1845, a pregnant widow with four children seeks to spare her 14-year-old daughter, Grace, from hunger, maybe, but certainly from the appetites of her own insatiable lover. She cuts the girl's hair, dresses her as a boy, and sends her off to seek work. Grace is soon joined by her irrepressible brother Colly, 12, who gives her a few lessons in maleness. Their time together is cut short when he is swept away in a teeming river as they try to salvage a drowned sheep. She lucks into work helping to herd cows, but betrayal and murder await down the drovers' path. She joins a road crew, but her first period surprises and unmasks her, stirring unwanted interest. A fellow worker saves her from would-be rapists and travels with her on adventures that seem to cover about half of Ireland by foot. Their unmeasurable route is through deepening despair and the hell beyond mere hunger"past want to a point that is longing narrowed down to the forgetting of all else"and the descent into crime and then a blackness: indeed, four Sterne-like blank black pages to signify perhaps more than pen can write, even one as eloquent as Lynch's (The Black Snow, 2015, etc.). Grace walks under "a sky of old cloth and the sun stained upon it." Elsewhere, "the air is stitched with insects." And sometimes Lynch seems to move beyond normal language: "A soul being loosened from a whin is shaped like a shout" (whin is gorse and the context is dead souls at dusk). 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." Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

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. Now, Grace must rapidly learn both physical and mental survival skills to endure in nineteenth-century, famine-plagued Ireland. Joined by her younger brother, Colly, she adopts varying personas to suit the requirements of the times and places she visits. Grace initially disguises herself as a boy to travel more safely, and she scavenges, hustles, and steals to make it from one day to the next in a world grown weary of want and need. 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.--Flanagan, Margaret Copyright 2017 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

NOTES ON A FOREIGN COUNTRY: An American Abroad in a Post-American World, by Suzy Hansen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) In this remarkably revealing book, Hansen wrestles bravely with her country's violent role in the world and the ways America has failed to "interrogate" itself. WARNER BROS: The Making of an American Movie Studio, by David Thomson. (Yale University, $25.) Thomson's history details the development of a brash studio that gave us gangsters, dames, gunfire, wisecracks, a wry, hard-boiled tone and the much-beloved wartime Oscar winner, "Casablanca." WHEN THE ENGLISH FALL, by David Williams. (Algonquin, $24.95.) This oddity of a novel examines how the utopian world of the Amish grapples with disaster in the form of a global power outage brought on by a solar storm. Can a community that holds itself apart survive the rest of society's collapse? OUT IN THE OPEN, by Jesús Carrasco. (Riverhead, $26.) This bleak and beautiful debut novel recounts a few days in the life of a boy fleeing his tormentors in an unforgiving, dystopian landscape of unrelenting harshness. Faced with horrible suffering, Carrasco asks, will we dispense grace or cruelty? MADE FOR LOVE, by Alissá Nutting. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $26.99.) This futuristic novel about a woman with a chip in her brain races along like an antic thriller and allows the author to offer deft observations on love, sex, intention, childhood and gadgets. THE WOMAN WHO HAD TWO NAVELS AND TALES OF THE TROPICAL GOTHIC, by Nick Joaquin. (Penguin, paper, $18.) Joaquin (1917-2004) is considered one of the Philippines' greatest writers, and there is a constant duality in the works collected here: war and resistance, the hopeful and the tragic, the desperate and the despot. GLASS HOUSES, by Louise Penny. (Minotaur, $28.99.) In the latest Three Pines mystery, Chief Inspector Gamache combats modern Canadian drug smugglers by delving into the Spanish past. SARGENT'S WOMEN: Four Lives Behind the Canvas, by Donna M. Lucey. (Norton, $29.95.) The glittering world of the late-19th-century 1 percent is revealed through the back stories of society women who posed for portraits by John Singer Sargent. GRACE, by Paul Lynch. (Little, Brown, $26.) The Irish writer's third novel asks timeless questions about suffering and survival through the story of two children expelled from their impoverished home in the midst of the Great Famine. When you're starving, Lynch seems to be asking, are you truly alive? The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web: nytimes.com/books

Library Journal Review

When 14-year-old Grace Coyle's mother hacks off her daughter's long hair, Grace cannot imagine what is in store for her over the next five years. Cast from her home and urged to disguise herself as a boy in order to survive the looming Irish famine, Grace finds her prospects going from bad to worse when her tag-along younger brother Colly is snatched away by a roaring river. She does her best, joining a cattle drive, then pounding out long hours as part of a motley road crew, but misery and danger follow her every turn. The voice of Colly is ever-present, poking her with riddles and warnings and nearly driving her mad. Lynch's (The Black Snow) prose is unduly complicated at first. The writing becomes more direct and lyrical toward the middle, then degenerates to stream-of-consciousness as Grace nearly succumbs to hunger. Readers who enjoy a challenge and a smattering of Gaelic will be enthralled, as long as their tolerance for violence and gritty language is also high. VERDICT Similar in theme and tone to Laird Hunt's Neverhome but set during the Irish potato famine instead of the American Civil War, this novel is bleak and unsparing yet often mesmerizing.-Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.