Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson

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Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Moving, funny, disturbing and many ways this is a difficult story to read, but it's also very difficult to put down.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2011
Publisher: Sceptre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-#

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Grace, aged eleven, is sent to the Briar Mental Institute as her parents can no longer cope with her care. She is befriended there by a young boy, Daniel, who is epileptic and also has no arms after a terrible accident. Together we see the horrors of life in the Briar, and also their slowly growing love affair with each other.

The book is written almost as a stream of consciousness, from Grace's point of view. This means that we are privy to Grace's inner thoughts and feelings, unlike the people around her, and this makes the events more poignant since we see how Grace is, almost entirely, dismissed as a person and yet she has so much going on inside her mind. Grace became a very real person to me through the story. The writing evokes a range of emotions - I found some of the scenes of abuse difficult and disturbing to read - and it can be frustrating to know things from Grace's point of view yet see those in charge of her care being utterly oblivious to how she feels.

Being written from Grace's point of view does also mean that, at times, the book can be difficult to read stylistically, feeling very intense. The earlier parts especially are full of Grace's own internal dialogue and way of describing things such as Bedtime, playtime, poo-time. You-time, me-time, teatime. Bread before cake. You before me. Bread and butter sprinkled with pink, sugary hundreds and thousands. Boiled eggs and Marmite fingers. Soldiers, said John. Chicken and eggs. There were millions of eggs in Mother's ovaries, he said. Why was Grace the rotten one? But once you get a feel for Grace's linguistic style you get caught up in the story, increasingly concerned about how things will turn out for her.

Grace's relationship with Daniel is interesting to watch as it grows and develops. I wasn't sure of Daniel at the beginning, but he grew on me as a character and as I began to understand how he interprets who Grace is and what she wants and needs. I wasn't sure that their relationship was always convincing, but I allowed myself to be carried along by the story. The descriptions of life in a mental institution in the fifties and sixties are incredibly detailed, as well as shocking and disturbing. You are left aghast, wondering how people could have treated the patients in this way and got away with it. Yet to lighten it there are also some moments of happiness, the odd person who actually cares about the patients and little events that make a difference in their lives.

The first time I picked this book up to read it I struggled with the style, figuring out who everyone was and what was going on and the different emotions being evoked. However, when I came back to continue reading it I found it incredibly compelling and didn't want to put it down. It's certainly an emotional story, and some may feel too manipulated by the author as they read, but I found it moving and I think it's a wonderful debut novel. I look forward to see what Emma Henderson moves on to write next.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For another emotionally intense look at mental institutions try Halfway House by Katharine Noel.

Buy Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson at

Buy Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson at

Booklists.jpg Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson is in the Orange Prize 2011.


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