Bernard MacLaverty - Grace Notes (1997)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
Writing outside the gender barrier is a tough business. There's always the risk that the relationship between author and subject strays too close to that of puppeteer and marionette. To attempt this creative leap demonstrates a writer's confidence in his craft. To land it takes great skill; a jeweller's eye for gesture and an ear fine-tuned to variations in voice. In Grace Notes, Bernard MacLaverty made that leap and landed to the applause of critics and readers which resonated to his shortlisting for the Booker Prize.
MacLaverty's work is always challenging, from the disturbing story of a man's attempt to save a boy in Lamb, through the troubled tale of love across the barricades that is Cal, to the bittersweet laughter in a journey through friendship and final exams in The Anatomy Lesson. In Grace Notes, MacLaverty introduces Catherine McKenna, a complex woman, composer and single mother whose estrangement from her family augments her deepening depression. She has returned to Belfast to bury her father and face her mother. Catherine brings back secrets, which MacLaverty uses with deft precision to draw the reader through the novel, gently tugging skeletons out of the closet, one bony knuckle at a time, giving us the grace behind disgrace.
Catherine and MacLaverty have much in common. Born in Belfast before settling in Scotland, and a profession in teaching given up in pursuit of their arts are shared between writer and character. Still, this does not account for the most gripping moments when Catherine is giving birth or experiencing emotions she believes no mother should be made to endure. The brilliance of Grace Notes cannot be attributed to a single element, but lies in subtleties of shade and tone found throughout. Music is paramount. It pulses in a rhythm through each line. Elegant. Beautifully phrased. Pitch perfect.
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