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Summary

A profoundly moving story spanning three generations. Could he not put together a memory for her? Perhaps he could become her memory. To build it from fragments, or make it up. And most of all bring back Grace. Her own mother.

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 receding memory, he prompts her with songs, photographs, and questions from their shared past, taking her back to the 1940s, when she was a young woman and he a child in a small Cumbrian town. But as he rekindles her memories, it is her own mother she longs for - and John finds himself delving further back, into the secrets and silences of Mary's fractured childhood, and the unsung sorrows of her thwarted yet spirited mother, Grace.

In an effort to console his mother before she slips away, John sets out to re-imagine Grace's life, to honour the memory of a grandmother he barely knew.

Reaching from the late 19th century to the present, John's loving recreation of forgotten family history and unspoken maternal grief becomes a moving elegy for the long, hidden chain of love, loss, and self-sacrifice that forms each and every generation.

©2013 Melvyn Bragg (P)2013 Hodder & Stoughton

Critic reviews

"Quite simply one of the best writers we have" (Sunday Telegraph)
"It's funny and sad and touching. With regular echoes of Thomas Hardy, this quiet, unshowy, book proves that novels can tell truths that are deeper and truer than the mere fact of memoir." (Alex Preston, The Observer)
"The pleasures of this elegant novel are many. Bragg's detailed evocation of the Wigton of his youth, the people that lived there, the beauty of the Cumbrian scenery, the lively sense of the region's long and varied history, is delightful. It's a novel that deserves to be read slowly, the details cherished." (Allan Massie, The Scotsman)
"The novel's multiple narratives are skilfully teased out from John's attempts to prolong meaningful life for his mother by stimulating her failing memory...For each generation, Bragg suggests, a key component of the quest is coming to terms with the past - a feat that his quietly intense novel pulls off with joy, sorrow and precision." (David Grylls, The Sunday Times)

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A tender story that's both sad and uplifting

A son visiting his aging mother, Mary, is saddened by her advancing dementia but strives to encourage her to remember her past and her mother, Grace. The listener is taken back and forth in the family's history with revelations of prejudice, disappointments and courage. The book exposes attitudes in society in the first half of the 20th Century, particularly towards women. I felt immersed in the era that the book spans and the author's familiarity with his birthplace in Cumbria gave a great sense of where the story is set.
The two narrators give voices to the characters that bring them to life.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Zeb
  • Cumbria, UK
  • 29-05-13

Wonderful heartwarming story

I thoroughly enjoyed this. It is obviouslly based on personal experience which gives it more intensity. The book is basically the story of a man and his elderly mother, who is suffering from dementia and in a care home. He encourages her to talk about the past where the memories are still intact, and so we learn about Mary's past and that of her mother Grace.

The tale touches on the issues of illegitimacy and how it was viewed in small-town Cumbria in the early 20th century; also that of ageing parents and how we cope with and react to the changes in them.

The descriptions of Carlisle, Wigton and Silloth both present and past were evocative (I live in Carlisle and so know most of the places described). I particularly liked though the way the author writes about his conflicting feelings concerning his mother (through the character of John); the many emotions of anger, impatience, guilt, tenderness and love that are involved in coping with an ageing relative and coming to terms with the loss even before they are gone.

This was beautifully and sensitively narrated.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A bit of a struggle

I'm afraid I did struggle with this book. I felt that all too often the characterisation was sacrificed on the alter of erudition. I wanted to know more about the people, their feelings and emotions and motivation, rather than the learned facts. For example, at the dance I wasn't really interested in the minute details of how it had been run for years etc, but in the characters involved! and how they were feeling There is no doubt that Melvyn Bragg is an extremely learned man, and some of the facts and thoughts were interesting, but this is obviously too dry a book for me. I did by the end, though, really empathise with Mother and Son, but it took a long time to get there.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Disappointing

Although a nice enough story and fine use of language, I had hoped for more from Melvyn Bragg, especially if you compare it to his "A Time to Dance".

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Linda
  • Bridgwater, United Kingdom
  • 25-05-13

Disaapointed

Having read the hype and reviews was very disappointed with this. Was rambling in places and the narration left a lot to be desired as a big Melvyn Bragg fan I felt somehow cheated with this particular novel

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Most boring book of 2014

What disappointed you about Grace and Mary?

The only thing good about this book was the word smithing. The story meanders along going nowhere with confusing jumps from the past to the ?present. It is predictable yet short on character development.

Would you ever listen to anything by Melvyn Bragg again?

Might do if the storyline seemed to merit it

How did the narrator detract from the book?

Other narrators help you recognise jumps in time by subtly altering their voices - this one didn't at all

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Drawn in

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes. Told by two characters, one in the past, one in the present, warmly connecting the two, keeping you involved and therefore interested in the outcome.

What does Gordon Griffin and Sandra Duncan bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Age. Gordon's aging son, Sandra's young mother, they demonstrated their life experiences really well.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, I was happy with taking breaks.

Any additional comments?

It's a different type of story, being told over two periods, but I enjoyed this.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Tugs at the heart strings

If you could sum up Grace and Mary in three words, what would they be?

nostalgic salutary delightful

Which scene did you most enjoy?

Grace's dignity when she is shocked by the news of Alan's engagement

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, but it was nicely divided by the two narrators

Any additional comments?

It made me sad and I loved it !!!