Review: Grace and Mary by Melvyn Bragg

“By ‘quite simply one of the best writers we have’ (Sunday Telegraph), a profoundly moving story spanning three generations.
John visits his ageing mother Mary in her nursing home by the sea, and mourns the slow fading of her mind. Hoping to shore up her memory, he prompts her with songs, photographs and questions about the 1940s, when she was a young woman and he a child in a small Cumbrian town.

But he finds that most of all it is her own mother she longs for – Grace, the mother she barely knew. John sets out to recreate their buried family history, delving into the secrets and silences of Mary’s fractured childhood as he imagines the life of her spirited mother.

Reaching from the late 19th century to the present, this becomes a deeply moving, reflective elegy on three generations linked by a chain of love, loss, and courage.”

Goodreads Description


I picked up Grace and Mary because it was marketed as a book about dementia. The author was interviewed in a magazine I read regularly and he was talking about the true story behind his novel. His own story.

I wanted to read the book as a way of coming to terms with recent events in my own life , so for me, that was the biggest draw to read this book – it was a book about dementia.

I found myself somewhat disappointed though, because the parts dealing with the dementia and the woman in the nursing home (the book is split into two timelines – present day: the narrator’s mother in a home because of dementia; and the past: the story of the narrator’s biological grandmother growing up), are few and far between. Considering it is pushed as a dementia novel, I found this really irritating.

However, the bulk of the book – the story of Grace – was fascinating. It’s not my usual thing at all, but I found myself increasingly hooked on this character and her story. I became very fond of Grace despite not being able to understand why her parts were in the book. I’d recommend the book just for that part – I’d even read it if it was entirely based on Grace.

In hindsight, I can kind of see why it was written the way it was written, but I found it unnecessary and confusing. I do empathise with the author though, as he has said it was based on his own experiences and it must have been absolutely heartbreaking to write.


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