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 …
I’ve had a copy of this book for ages, in fact it appeared on my Tempted By… feature back in January, but it has taken until now, and the lure of a buddy read by my friend, Kate, to finally bump it to the top of the TBR and now I am wondering why I waited so long!
Kate had just finished reading the author’s new book, Where We Belong, and was waxing so lyrical about how much she loved it that I said I was going to dig out that copy of her first novel that was languishing on my TBR, and Kate said we should do a buddy read, which was great fun. Needless to say, we both loved it. In fact, I’ve not seen a negative comment about this book.
It is an absolutely beautiful story about love, betrayal, loss and the redeeming power of music and friendship. I knew from the very beginning that the book was going to be something special. Anstey took the bold step of introducing two characters and immediately making them morally ambiguous, so to begin with you are wondering if they are people you should be rooting for or not. Grace then quickly becomes someone that you fall in love with and your sympathies are entirely with her from then on. Anstey draws her so clearly and believably, that you can feel her every emotion exactly as she does and, even when she makes bad decisions, you understand and forgive them because you know the place of pain they are coming from. There are very few characters that I have become so emotionally invested in over the course of my reading life and it is a real skill to achieve.
The pacing of this book is perfect, and there are several points where the author introduces truly shocking events that took me entirely by surprise. I found myself sending Kate WhatsApp messages riddled with excited/shocked/horrified emojis when I got to a part of the book that I knew was going to blow her away when she reached them. It is the kind of book that makes you sigh, and scream and cheer out loud, even though this makes you look like a lunatic if you are reading in public, because you are so invested in the story and the characters’ emotions.
I am not a connoisseur of classical music and did wonder if the exploration of instrument making and classical music would be beyond me, but it wasn’t at all. I found it fascinating and enthralling, and I was swept away by the passion that the characters obviously feel for it, even though I don’t share it. It made me want to go and listen to the music the book refers to, and then read the book again with a better understanding of how these particular pieces complement the story. There is a part towards the end of the book involving a musical interlude that almost made me cry, and then another part of the book towards the end which actually did make me cry. I felt sympathy for a character I had recently despised, and genuinely did not know how things were going to end until I had read the conclusion. I felt despair and pain and hope and joy throughout the course of the book, and marvelled at the skill it takes to truly arouse all these feelings in a reader.
The writer excels at using language and phrasing to evoke emotions and paint a very clear picture. I made note of some of my favourite parts so that I could study them, as a student of writing, later. I can’t write down my favourite quote, as it gives away a major plot point, but it is in the second paragraph of Chapter Eighteen! The imagery is so clear and deft, I am in awe of her. The beauty of the descriptions of Paris and the love she espouses for the city will take you straight there. The power of the emotional descriptions will break your heart. The beauty of the friendships will put it back together again. It is just marvellous.
In fact, it is the odd friendships that form the backbone of this book and really make it sing. It teaches you that, however alone you feel, there are always people out there who will reach out to comfort you in times of need, and they are not who you might expect. However much you try and shut the world out, it will creep in at the edges and hold you up when you feel all is lost. And the people who you think matter most may not truly be the ones you can rely on, so you need to keep our eyes and your heart open and trust yourself. It is, ultimately, life-affirming.
I absolutely adored this book and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a powerful read.
The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.
About the Author
Anstey Harris is based by the seaside in south-east England where she lives with her violinmaker husband and two dogs. She teaches creative writing in the community, local schools, and as an associate lecturer for Christchurch University in Canterbury.
Anstey writes about the things that make people tick, the things that bind us and the things that can rip us apart. In 2015, she won the H G Wells Short Story Prize for her story, Ruby. In novels, Anstey tries to celebrate uplifting ideas and prove that life is good and that happiness is available to everyone once we work out where to look (usually inside ourselves). Her short stories tend not to end quite so well…
Things that interest Anstey include her children and granddaughter, green issues and conservation, adoption and adoption reunion (she is an adopted child, born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965), stepfamilies, dogs, and food. Always food. She would love to be on Masterchef but would never recover from the humiliation if she got sent home in the first round.
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