Chaucer, Shakespeare, Andrew Marvell, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, John Milton, Jane Austen, John Fowler A.S. Byatt and Julian Barnes are tough acts to follow. Nevertheless, author Catherine Hall does a commendable job of adding luster to British letters her first novel, DAYS OF GRACE.
The story centers on a secret Hall’s main character, Londoner Nora Lynch, has kept for fifty years. As the book opens, Nora takes the first steps to emerge from self-imposed seclusion to help a young girl whose solitary life leads to a series of flashbacks to her own travels at the beginning of World War II when she was one of the children evacuated to the countryside. At the home of the Reverend rivers, his wife and daughter Grace, Nora leads a life of previously unknown middle class comfort. Material well-being and newfound gentility eventually create a gulf between her and her working class mother. Then an unexpected event shatters her idyllic life and compels her to flee back to London. Grace insists on going with her. What happens next adds a somber layer to the secret Nora hides in her heart and she must begin yet another life.
There are no samples of pointed wit, no earthshaking insights, no artifice in DAYS OF GRACE. There is, however, a harmony between the story and its characters. There are poignant portraits of young girls coming of age in pastoral England, where the lush landscape seems to mute the drumbeat of war, there are dispassionate renderings of serpents in Eden and there is the unrelieved burden of desire. It all adds up to a tenderly written, memorable book.