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grace (2017)

Winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2018,GRACE is a sweeping, Dickensian story of a young girl on a life-changing journey across nineteenth-century Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine.

Early one October morning, Grace’s mother snatches her from sleep and brutally cuts off her hair, declaring, “You are the strong one now.” With winter close at hand and Ireland already suffering, Grace is no longer safe at home. And so her mother outfits her in men’s clothing and casts her out. When her younger brother Colly follows after her, the two set off on a remarkable odyssey in the looming shadow of their country’s darkest hour.


The broken land they pass through reveals untold suffering as well as unexpected beauty. To survive, Grace must become a boy, a bandit, a penitent and finally, a woman—all the while afflicted by inner voices that arise out of what she has seen and what she has lost.

Told in bold and lyrical language by an author who has already been called “one of his generation’s very finest novelists” (Ron Rash, author of The Risen), Grace is an epic coming of age novel and a poetic evocation of the Irish famine as it has never been written.


UK & Ireland: Quercus, 2013 | North America: Little, Brown 2013 | France: Albin Michel 2014 | Italy: 66th & 2nd 2017 …. 


• WINNER of the Kerry Group Irish Book of the Year 2018

• WINNER of the Ireland Francophonie Ambassadors' Literary Award 2020

• Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018

• Shortlisted for the Saroyan International Prize for Writing 2018

•  Shortlisted for the Prix Littérature Monde 2019

• Shortlisted for the Prix Jean Monnet de Littérature Européenne 2019

• Shortlisted for the Prix de L’Héroïne 2019

• Guardian — Best Books of 2017

• Irish Independent — Best Books of 2017

• New York Times Book Review — Editors’ Choice Book

• Kirkus — Best Books of 2017

• Esquire — Best Books of 2017

• Staff pick — The Paris Book Review



“The Irish writer’s third novel raises timeless questions about suffering and survival through the story of two children expelled from their impoverished home in the midst of the Great Famine. When you’re starving, Lynch seems to be asking, are you truly alive?”


“Twenty-some years ago, Terry Eagleton lamented the paucity of imaginative writing on the Famine. The culture, he said, had “never produced a writer adequate to the scale of the event”. Why? Had the sheer scale of the cataclysm struck Irish writers dumb? Perhaps, but Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea broke the silence in 2003, with Eagleton heralding a novel “that pushed Irish fiction out into a richer, stranger country”.
Now comes Paul Lynch’s third novel, Grace, which pushes the Famine novel into territory even richer and stranger still. As a writer, Lynch is sui generis. His style is bold, grandiose, mesmeric. He strives for large effects, wrestles with big ideas. In Melville’s formulation, he is one of those writers who dares “to dive” into the darkest recesses of the soul, risking all to surface clutching the pearl….
Lynch has been compared to greats such as Cormac McCarthy, Faulkner and Beckett, while others have located him in the Irish gothic tradition of Stoker and le Fanu. Original talent often inspires critical confusion, so perhaps best to say Lynch defies easy categorisation. Meanwhile, the writer has staked out his literary terrain and is again ploughing it with customary verve and gusto….”

— Bert Wright, THE SUNDAY TIMES Ireland

“Paul Lynch is one of today’s greatest Irish writers”


“Haunting and poetic… Lynch has given us poignant glimpses of the human body’s limits, that peculiar messiness of identity, and what happens when parts of a society fail to help, or even acknowledge, those in need.”


“Grace” is a moving work of lyrical and at times hallucinatory beauty… that reads like a hybrid of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’…


“An epic book of black splendour”


“Lynch goes where only famished dogs should go, and it’s a measure of his skill that he keeps us with him all the same…. We care about Grace and her companion, her young brother Colly, but what grips is the merging, through grief and desperation, of the dead and the living. When you’re starving, Lynch seems to be asking, are you truly alive? Without resorting to make-believe, he carefully and inexorably explores the confusion. “Grace” is a story of ghosts but it isn’t a ghost story. “Grace” is a story of the Great Famine, but it’s not narrowly political. “Grace” is a tale of misery, but it’s not a misery memoir. Lynch is a sure-footed tightrope walker….
Lynch’s lush, poetic prose deliberately and painfully acts as a foil to the reality of the famine…. And make no mistake: The poetry doesn’t prettify. We cringe at the slyness, the degradation, the whining and dehumanizing humiliation hunger drags in its wake, with men “in their slump-walk … coming slowly undone. How they look like they are losing both their inwardness and outwardness.” And then there’s Grace, “walking with a wanty hand held out.”
Amid the lushness are direct stabs to remind us that “Grace” isn’t just a story set long ago. When, with sobering insight, Lynch writes that “though you can learn to ignore hunger … hunger is always thinking of you,” he’s the voice of today’s famished millions. Only after the worst scene is he speechless. Four blank black pages follow, and they’re far from a gimmick. I found myself turning them slowly, one by one, until, like Grace, I was ready to begin the long climb back to the light.”


“This is a profound and unusual coming-of-age story.”


“Lynch is an immense talent with a haunting style that is as poignant as it is dazzling…. “This life is light,” writes the author at the end of the book. His novel too.”


“It’s not just style that makes this an unforgettable book. Its heroine, 14-year-old Grace, may not have much to say for herself, but her younger brother, Colly, is a gleefully riddling, smutty delight. Separated by a tragedy soon after they are expelled from home to fend for themselves, Colly’s irresistible voice continues to ring in Grace’s ears.
What ensues is full of incident and grotesques, fizzing with adventure, a counter to the enervating effects of their starvation. But gradually it becomes a darker book as hunger eats away at humanity — and the darker it gets, the more [Lynch’s] unerring gifts are confirmed.”

— Stephanie Cross, THE DAILY MAIL UK

“Lynch…has a particular gift for finding the unexpected yet compelling image that conveys the anomalous nature of this otherworld…. [The] poetic prose is at deliberate odds with the stark horror it depicts, and yet the four blank, black pages at the terrible climax of Grace’s journey are as eloquent as anything else on the unspeakable tragedy of the Famine”.


“Passionately lyrical… “Grace’’ belongs to several great traditions — the picaresque novel, the coming-of-age novel, and the orphan novel… [this] is a relentless novel, but Lynch allows his heroine a true complexity of feeling — about her brother, her mother, Bart, and what she sees happening around her — that allows the reader to empathize even as we wring our hands. “Grace’’ is not only a gripping tale about an appalling period in history — although that would be quite enough — but also, sadly, piercingly relevant.”


“Paul Lynch probes the heart of the human condition with flamboyant lyricism. With only three novels, he is already an inimitable voice — an hallucinatory realism with an incantatory, hypnotic prose….”


“Incantatory and magical”


“An epic tale of endurance, which in Lynch’s deft hands is harrowing and simultaneously starkly beautiful.”
—  “Best Books of 2017, so far”


“[Grace] feels as though it has already claimed its place among great Irish literature”.


“A beautifully written novel with a haunting story and deep echoes of the Ancients”

— EDNA O'BRIEN, author of Little Red Chairs

“A terrible beauty: Paul Lynch’s Grace is a shudderingly well-written, dead-real, hallucinatory trip across Famine Ireland”.

— EMMA O'DONOGHUE, author of Room

“A gifted Irish author…. This is a writer who wrenches beauty even from the horror that makes a starving girl think her “blood is trickling over the rocks of my bones.”

— KIRKUS, starred revie

“I was taken aback at the subtle beauty with which [Lynch] renders one girl’s experience in the Irish Famine. Grace, the story’s protagonist, is forced out of her home by her own mother, who cuts off her hair and tells her, “You are the strong one now.” Lynch never shies away from the subject matter—the impossibly grueling winters Grace faces, the people she meets and can never trust, the heartbreak of losing a family member—but he entwines it all with prose that sways from brutally realistic scenes into the fullness of the landscape and back again in just a few words. Though the story could have been overwrought, in Lynch’s deft hands I found myself enthralled as Grace cuts herself a path through a forbidding world.”


“A masterly work, at once a coming-of-age novel, intimate, social and historical. A work that digs the human psyche and that of a country”


“Grace is an epic fresco, a picaresque novel as much as a stirring coming-of-age story…. reminiscent of the apocalyptic landscapes of Cormac McCarthy, the lyrical desolation of William Faulkner and the collapsing language of Samuel Beckett.”


“This story is heart-wrenching. Lynch portrays a horrible time of great human suffering with poignancy. The writing is beautifully poetic and deftly combines romance, a coming-of-age, and a philosophical enquiry of the nature of history and time. Reminiscent of Faulkner and McCarthy, Grace will propel you back in time.”


“Grace’s journey is thrilling enough but Lynch’s poetic and cinematic prose endows her with a voice that should make her a classic of Irish literature.”


“As McCarthy answered Faulkner, Lynch offers the most convincing answer to McCarthy that we’ve seen yet in literature. Lynch sacrifices none of the rigor and menace while summoning an emotional power that leaves one stunned at times. Grace is a novel of surpassing beauty and moral weight, and Lynch is a prodigious talent, with a sorcerer’s command of the language and an extraordinary artistic integrity. This is a masterwork.”

— MATTHEW THOMAS, New York Times-bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves

“A mesmerizing, incandescent work of art. It’s all things together — a tragedy, an adventure, a romance, a coming-of-age, a searing exposition of historical truths; an interrogation of the nature of time and existence. Above all it’s a perfect story, an exhilarating, Odyssean, heart-pounding, glorious story, wrought by a novelist with the eye and the ear and the heart of an absolute master. Paul Lynch is peerless. Grace Coyle, daughter of Coll, will be one of the enduring heroines of world literature.”

— DONAL RYAN, author of The Spinning Heart

"An epic and highly poetic story set during a particularly pivotal time in Irish history, with an unforgettable female protagonist. This is writing on a par with modern storytelling greats such as Patrick Kavanagh, John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy, and future greatness surely beckons for Lynch."

— BENJAMIN MYERS, author of The Offing

“Wonderful… heart-wrenching.. Lynch’s powerful, inventive language intensifies the poignancy of the woe that characterizes this world of have-nothings struggling to survive.”

— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, starred review

“The power of Paul Lynch’s imagination is truly startling; his ability to inhabit and deeply understand the moments, both slight and shattering, of a life and of an era translates into an instinct not just for story, but for the most hidden, most forceful currents of language and what they can do.”

— BELINDA MCKEON, author of Tender

“Grace is a thing of power and of wonder, from the savage scalp-shearing of its start, through pages of figurative and literal black, to the ‘good blue days’ of its end. Paul Lynch writes novels the way we need them to be written: as if every letter of every word mattered. This whole book is on fire.”

— LAIRD HUNT, author of The Evening Road

“Grace is a masterful sequel to Red Sky in Morning; a beautifully written, lyrical portrait of a young girl coming of age during the Great Famine. Lynch’s Ireland is a land of sadness, harsh reality and starvation, yet there is beauty found in the air, the sky and even the insects. The prose flows like good Irish whiskey and compels readers to keep drinking in Lynch’s words; sometimes so poetic they read like a James Joyce novel.”


“Grace is fierce wonder, a journey that moves with the same power and invention as the girl at its center. What Paul Lynch brings to these pages is more than mere talent—it’s a searing commitment to story and soul, and in witnessing Grace’s transformations, one can’t help but feel changed too. This novel is faith, poetry, lament, and triumph; its mark is not only luminous, but it promises to never fade.”

— AFFINITY KONAR, author of Mischling

“If you took the most overwhelming and distilled moments of a life–those instants when even a small brush of the wind over a stream seems to speak to the whole problem of living–and scattered them along an Irish riverside during that country’s great famine, you might arrive at GRACE. This is a major work of lasting, powerful feelings that might find a place amidst your memories of Light in August and Huckleberry Finn.”

— WILL CHANCELLOR, author of A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall



“In celebrated Irish novelist Lynch’s (The Black Snow, 2015) latest tale, Grace is harshly thrust out into the world by her mother, who can think of no other way to protect her blossoming 14-year-old… As her hardscrabble odyssey continues, she begins to develop in unexpected ways, her eyes opening to both ruthless reality and limitless possibilities. Growing into womanhood as a wanderer, Grace rises above cruel circumstances to control her own destiny in remarkably surprising directions, casting new light on this grim and pivotal era in Irish history.”


“The new book by Paul Lynch, author of the critically-acclaimed and quite good Red Sky in Morning, is a different undertaking in both scope and power than anything this author has written before. Grace, set in bitterly impoverished mid-19th century Donegal at the dawn of the Irish Potato Famine, shares the linguistic virtuosity of Lynch’s earlier books and their tone of threnody; these aren’t beach reads, unless your beach is rocky, dark, and freezing cold – so, come to think of it: Irish beaches. But in these pages Lynch has deepened and refined his art considerably – there are entire sections of the book that are unforgettable.”



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