Release date: Hardback 7th June 2010
Genre: Historical fiction
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury
Fallen Grace is a riveting tale of Victorian London and the funereal customs of the time. It has death, romance, scandal and mystery.
Grace is sixteen and has recently given birth. At the beginning of the story she is travelling on a train out of London to Brookwood cemetery to bury her stillborn child. What a sad beginning! Grace’s life is one that is balances dangerously on the poverty line. To make money she and her sister Lily sell watercresses on the streets. Grace although younger than Lily is the head of their household. Lily is a simple girl and is easily distracted by just about anything. While at the cemetery, Grace meets two people who are pivotal to the story. Mr James Solent is a young lawyer who assists Grace when she hurts her ankle. Mrs Unwin wife of a funeral director offers Grace a job as a mute. A mute is a tragic faced figure who stands mute by a grave or coffin or outside a church while the service is in progress.
This story is very evocative of the Victorian era. I felt that the time and place of the story were really at the heart of it. Grace a young woman, carer and orphan is trying to find her way in a world that is full of the corrupt thieving minded. Hooper really conveyed the sense that childhood was a very short if non-existent experience in London at this time for the working classes. She also communicated the lack of rights that children had. In some ways they were no better off than animals.
Grace was a strong, noble character and I’m sure there were girls of her age with such determination to survive and to hope for a better life at this time. It was hard for me to believe at times that she would be so strong after losing a child – not just mentally but physically. I think in the Victorian era many women still died in childbirth. Of course we can allow the author a little literary license for the purpose of plot.
There are many threads running through the story. There is the identity of the father of Grace’s stillborn baby. There is the ever present need for survival and a regular income. There are also a number of newspaper articles mentioned in the prose or at the beginning of a chapter which allude to events to come. One of the main themes of this book is death. Hooper explores the very money-orientated culture of the period and how unscrupulous funeral directors swindled and misled people into paying out for unnecessary or extravagant items.
Fallen Grace is a great read. It is rich with details of the time and there is even an appearance from Charles Dickens. So entrenched in the period was this book that it actually made me want to read some Dickens – Great Expectations perhaps. Historical fiction fans will thoroughly enjoy it.
Thanks to Bloomsbury Books for sending the book to review.
The paperback of Fallen Grace is now also available.