The publicity surrounding The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton suggests it would be popular with fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman – my favourite book of 2017, so I happily moved away from my crime fiction and thrillers to dip my toes into the quirky world of Grace Atherton.
It has to be said however, that Grace and Eleanor have little in common. And that’s not a bad thing. Anstey Harris’s Grace is very different to the prickly Eleanor (who readers couldn’t help but love) however this grabbed me from the first sentence…
We were staying at David’s apartment in Paris the night the woman fell onto the Metro tracks.
The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton
by Anstey Harris
Published by Simon & Schuster
on January 1st 2019
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: General Fiction
ISBN: 1471173798, 9781471173806
Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.
Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.
It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about …
So I was hooked from the opening pages. And references to their snatches of time allow us to learn pretty quickly that (the perfect boyfriend) David is married with kids…
We get up late and go to bed early, cocooned. We mostly stay in the apartment, drinking coffee on the iron balcony, or we drape ourselves across the deep sofas and listen to music. We don’t go out to restaurants and we don’t have friends here; it would dilute our tiny amount of time together, time made precious by its scarcity….
I will be leaving tomorrow afternoon; our time is so brief, so funnelled in, that even the blissful moments at the concert seemed like a tiny treachery. p 3
Despite David’s ‘current circumstances’ Grace has their life together planned – as he’s promised to leave his family as soon as the kids are old enough.
Did you eye-roll? I certainly did. However Grace takes us into their relationship and it’s seemingly built on love and commitment.
Grace, who met David when she was 32, isn’t entirely naive and knows what she’s doing….
For me, suspending my disbelief has become as natural as breathing. I have had eight years to practise. I know I am doing wrong; I am not a natural mistress, not an accomplished fisher of other women’s husbands, but the way that David and I met, the way we began, is very different to most other love stories.
Our relationship is not, and never has been, without its reasons. p 14
It’d be easy to paint David as the villain. A cheating man who keeps Grace dangling for years and years. But she’s very certain that their future lies together and in many ways David is her biggest cheerleader.
Grace idolises David (as a man and partner), wondering sometimes what he sees in her and I think she recognises a confidence she envies as she describes him as someone who ‘knows who he is and what his faults are’. He’s ‘happy in his own skin’, she explains.
The couple’s trysts in Paris occur in isolation (and secret to a not-articulated extent), but when in England David seemingly happily enters Grace’s world.
As is obvious from the opening line, something happens on this particular visit to Paris that threatens Grace’s relationship with David – or more specifically his privacy and their future together.
The book is written from Grace’s point of view so we’re in her head. I mentioned earlier she’s not as quirky (in that annoying and endearing way) as Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant, but it’s hard not to connect and become invested in her story.
Grace planned to be a cellist. She was on the right path and her parents had sacrificed everything for her over the years. They’d struggled to pay for her instruments and her lessons and then send her to college.
She tells us herself she was an unusual kind of girl. She had few friends so when things fell apart she had no one to confide in. She left college after only a year and developed a fear of playing her ‘cello in front of others – now not having done so for two decades, instead devoting herself to making and repairing instruments.
This book is beautifully written and it’s that eloquence that’s able to turn, what could very easily be a predictable tale of woe, into something deeper. Something that subtle and brutal, at the same time.
The book blurb refers to Grace’s secrets – those she’s kept from everyone. We learn it / them… in fits and starts and it’s nothing like I imagined. Part of me was tempted to shrug and wonder what the big deal was, until I remembered back on my own life and pivotal moments that caught me unawares, that shaped who I was and who I continue to be.
Just below the surface of my life runs a bitter seam; a desire to claw gaping holes in reality, to scratch and kick and fight my way back to what I used to think was my life. I’d give anything to return to my comfortable ignorance. This is something I can never share with the people who have tried so very hard to fix me. Every part of me – every aspect – is broken and every second, every heartbeat, feels like it might be my last. p 250
The tagline on the book cover also implies Grace falls out of love, so there’s a bit of a spoiler there, but although we kinda know what’s coming Harris tweaks the narrative in an unexpected way. She paints those we should hate with a shade of grey rendering them less evil and perhaps more understandable. More human. And allowing us to see why (and how) what happens, was able to happen.
This book wasn’t at all what I expected. I loved it. It’s a great read. Harris also includes a lot of information about music and the ‘cello (real name violoncello), about orchestras and instruments.
The support cast is also strong and Grace – who’s pretty much isolated herself to focus on her work and be available and ready when her ‘real life’ with David starts – finds support from an 80-something year old client and her teenage shop assistant.
A beautiful beautiful book.
The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris by Simon & Schuster and now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.