Review Blog

Sep 14 2010

Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper

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Bloomsbury, 2010. ISBN 9780747599135.
(Age 13+) Highly recommended. Grace Parkes has given birth to an illegitimate child. Distraught, she travels to Brookwood Cemetery where she hides her little wrapped package in a rich lady's coffin, knowing that her baby will have a proper burial. There she meets Mr James Solent, the brother of Susannah Solvent, whose coffin she has used and this meeting as well as one with Mrs Emmeline Unwin, will have untold effects on her future. When Grace goes back to London, she faces a dire time trying to make a living selling watercress and anything else she can get her hands on, to try and keep her sister Lily and herself alive. The Unwins, too, are trying to defraud the sisters of an inheritance that is rightfully theirs.
Grace and Lily are gently brought up girls, who when their mother dies, are faced with destitution. Their father has never returned from India, where he went to gain a fortune, and they are left with only a few possessions to sell to buy food and pay their rent. Grace is forced to leave the orphanage when its benefactor abuses her and the sisters' life and is lucky to find a room with Mrs Macready. The themes of rape and abuse are low key and not described in any detail so younger readers would be able to cope with this content.
All of Hooper's characters are finely developed. Grace is a strong heroine and Lily is her likeable disabled sister.bvJames Solvent the young solicitor, is compassionate and caring, and minor characters are so well developed that all come to life in the mind of the reader.
Hooper brings the plight of the poor in Victorian England vividly alive with her accurate historical depiction of life at that time. I loved this historical novel and its Victorian setting and funeral customs, were fascinating. I felt as if I was living with the girls as they struggled to stay off the streets. There were tears in my eyes as I thought about Grace having to bury her poor little baby in a stranger's coffin and I was appalled at the cunning malice of the Unwins who were trying to get the girls' inheritance.
The clever combination of the contrast of the appalling conditions for poor women and those of the rich, and a gripping plot of an inheritance lost, makes for a wonderful and memorable story. I loved reading this type of rags to riches story when I was young and throoughly enjoyed this one. Fallen Grace is a captivating story, and the addition of the historical detail makes it even more rich and compelling. I will always read a book written by Mary Hooper, who doesn't fail to write fabulous fiction.
Pat Pledger

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