Winner of The Big Book Awards: The Best Page Turners, 2018
Shortlisted for the Popular Fiction Book of the Year: The Irish Book Awards, 2018
An Irish Independent Book of the year, 2018
Grace sees her boyfriend Henry everywhere. In the supermarket, on the street, at the graveyard.
Only Henry is dead. He died two months earlier, leaving a huge hole in Grace's life and in her heart. But then Henry turns up to fix the boiler one evening, and Grace can't decide if she's hallucinating or has suddenly developed psychic powers. Grace isn't going mad - the man in front of her is not Henry at all, but someone else who looks uncannily like him. The hole in Grace's heart grows ever larger.
Grace becomes captivated by this stranger, Andy - to her, he is Henry, and yet he is not. Reminded of everything she once had, can Grace recreate that lost love with Andy, resurrecting Henry in the process, or does loving Andy mean letting go of Henry?
Grace McDonnell and Henry Walsh had their future all planned out. They were going to buy their dream house, get married and live happily ever after just outside of Dublin.
And then one rainy afternoon, everything is shattered.
Grace must find a way to come to come to grips with her new reality. Venturing out into a world where Henry no longer exists is almost too much to bear.
So she forges bonds in the most unexpected of places - in a band of the grieving that meets daily in Glasnevin Cemetery, with her nosy new neighbour and with a man who happens to look exactly like her lost love.
Maybe life didn’t happen linearly. Maybe there were parallel worlds and existences and there was one just next to my own in which Henry didn’t disappear under the wheel of a sugar truck, in which he wasn’t so much a twin as one half of the same coin, the first act in a two-act play. Henry had always believed in fate, and I believed in second chances.
Andy Cunningham came to Ireland to find his roots and ended up finding much more.
He discovers a family just like the one that he had longed for all of his life and he could have it if he could manage to fill the void left by his twin brother.
A part of him wants desperately to do just that. But there’s another part – however small – that knows how unfair it is to even consider.
Together with Grace, he will find his truth and finally lead everyone down a path to healing.
“And what about us?” I asked, looking at him without an ounce of embarrassment. “How would we be?”
Grace After Henry is a stunning tale of love, loss and finding strength. Eithne Shortall masterfully blends searing heartbreak with a special kind of whip-smart humor that literally had me laughing through tears.
With her poignant prose, she sets a tone of affirmation and bravely follows through with an ending that is full of both melancholy and joy.
This book is a rare gem that shines with a hopeful light. And I could bask in its warmth for days…
~ Q & A With Eithne Shortall ~
What inspired you to write this novel?
The moment of inspiration ended up becoming the opening of the novel. I was in Grace’s position: viewing a house in the hopes of purchasing it and waiting for my boyfriend to arrive. I was eavesdropping on a conversation in the bathroom when I suddenly had the thought: What if he doesn’t show up? What if he was in an accident on the way here? What if I never see him again? That was the spark—the conscious beginnings of the novel. After that point, nothing felt entirely within my control.
Grace’s voice is so real and relatable on the page. Are you and she similar? Is her story in any way based on your own?
I share some traits with Grace, but so too do I share traits with Henry and Andy. In order to write her story, I had to entirely believe she was real. This is the toughest and most important part of writing for me. It can take me months to believe in my character, and I panic it won’t happen, but once I get there, it starts to flow really easily. This is why I tell the story in the first person—so I can channel her for a few hours every day. When I was writing this, I took myself away from my daily life in Dublin. I spent weeks on my own in a little house in rural Ireland, trying to imagine how it would feel to suddenly exist without the person you thought would always be there. One afternoon, I found myself crying as
I wrote. That was when I had it; as far as I was concerned, Grace existed. She still does. By the end of the novel, the characters were as real to me as anyone in my own life.
Do you know any twins in real life? How did you come up with Andy’s and Henry’s characters? Did you always know how they would be different?
I have twin cousins, two boys. I thought of them only in terms of appearance and how you come to tell identical, or near identical, twins apart. In terms of personality characteristics, though, they didn’t really feed into the novel. Andy’s and Henry’s characters were formed through a lot of writing and rewriting. Much like with Grace, I just kept going until I believed they were real. I gave due respect to nature and nurture; I wanted their similarities to be harder to verbalize than their differences. I thought a lot about myself and people I know: How much does our upbringing influence who we become? If we grew up in different countries, different families—how different would we be?
The novel deals very realistically with grief and what it’s like to lose a loved one, yet it manages to still be terrifically funny. What was it like to keep up this balance while you were writing?
That was difficult; you don’t want to be maudlin, but nor to you want to be insensitive. Achieving that balance was probably an aspect where my own personality came through most strongly. I find it very difficult to be entirely serious, even in the saddest of circumstances. It’s that old maxim: If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. It’s about having perspective. I think being Irish was an asset in this regard. If you’re looking for biting humor, forget comedy clubs; try an Irish funeral.
The novel is set in Dublin, Ireland, where you live. Why did you want to set your novel in Dublin? Do you think the story would be different if it was set elsewhere?
It never occurred to me to set this story anywhere else. Dublin was a huge part of it, and the Phoenix Park in particular. I think Dublin is a hugely romantic city, but not in an obvious way like, say, Paris. It’s small and unflashy. It’s a capital city, and yet everyone kind of knows everyone else. You regularly bump into people you know, and the geography of it is gloriously unorganized. I wanted to get that feeling of meandering, particularly when it came to the Phoenix Park. Dublin has a strong literary history too, and I don’t think James Joyce should be the only one who gets to have his characters walking its streets. As well as the romance elsewhere, Grace After Henry is a part love letter to the city where I was born.
You’ve worked for many years as a journalist for the Sunday Times Ireland. Why did you start writing fiction? How is writing a novel different than writing as a journalist?
I have been writing fiction since I was in single digits. The first bit of money I ever made from writing was when I was twelve. I won twenty pounds in a magazine competition for a poem about Saint Patrick’s Day. I always wanted to write. I got into journalism because it seemed like a (slightly) more possible way of doing that. There was a path, at least; you could study and get a work placement. I was always writing for myself during those years—poems and flash fiction and short bits of family memoir.
A novel was always on the long finger, and then I managed to get a three-month sabbatical from the newspaper, so I gave myself that much time to finish a first draft. Journalism has its pros and cons in terms of training you to write fiction. It can flatten your imagination sometimes, but it is excellent for making you stick to deadlines—even the self-imposed ones!
As a cook, Grace is the heart of the Portobello Kitchen, and you make her time in the kitchen come to life! Do you also like to cook? Have you ever worked in a restaurant?
This is one way in which Grace and I are nothing alike. I am not a cook. I am a glory hunter. So basically I’m interested in cooking only if it’s for a large group and everyone is going to praise me. If it’s just me by myself, I’ll be eating sandwiches. However, I did work as a waitress for several years while at university, and I loved that job. My time at that café-slash-wine-bar absolutely fed into the Portobello Kitchen. Also, given my aforementioned cooking abilities (or lack thereof), I do a lot of eating out, so I am an expert on the workings of cafés.
Andy’s storyline draws on recent Irish history. Without giving too much of the story away, could you tell us a bit about the history of adoption in Ireland and why you wanted to write about this topic?
I didn’t mean to write about this, and it remains only one part of the story, but it can’t be ignored. This is also why I felt this story had to be set in Ireland. DNA kits—where you send off some saliva and get back a report on your family ancestry—are growing in popularity all around the world, but I know people in Ireland who are reluctant to take them or are nervous when their family members do so. The amount of shame that cloaked women who got pregnant out of wedlock in Ireland until relatively recently cannot be overstated, nor can the level of unofficial as well as official adoptions that took place, with many children leaving the country. As part of my research for the novel, I spoke to the head of the Adoption Rights Alliance in Ireland, and the stories she told me would make your hairs stand on end. Obviously there were plenty of aboveboard adoptions, but there were also children being sold and exported without their mother’s consent. All this didn’t make it into the novel, but it hangs in the background.
At its heart, Grace After Henry is a love story. Tell us a bit about what writing love stories means to you.
It annoys me when love stories are dismissed or considered less than other types of novels; as if somehow love is an inferior emotion. Love is the reason for everything worthwhile. It’s not always a case of boy meets girl either. As with Grace After Henry, it can be far more nuanced and complex and difficult than that. I am looking to dissect emotions, to try to get to the root of what drives people, and if you do that, you’re bound to find love. I’m also interested in hope. I don’t necessarily want everything tied up in a neat little package, but I want my books to represent hope. So even if they are sad, I endeavor to make them uplifting. The world is bleak enough without me adding to it.
Did you always know how the novel would end?
Not at all. My method for writing—as much as I have one—is to approach the book in chunks. I’ll write, say, thirty thousand words, and then I’ll go back and try to perfect it. Then I move on to the next thirty thousand. I didn’t write the last twelve thousand words of this novel until about three weeks before I finished it. I find the ending comes easily. The beginning is where I struggle. I had the epilogue in my mind from about the halfway point, but other than that, I hadn’t a clue. I just trust that it will flow out of me.
About The Author ~
Eithne Shortall is an author and journalist. Her debut novel, Love in Row 27, was published in June 2017. Her second novel, Grace after Henry, will be published in the UK and Ireland in May 2018 and in the United States in early 2019. She is the chief arts writer with the Irish edition of the Sunday Times newspaper and a regular contributor to RTE Radio.
Eithne was born and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. She studied journalism at Dublin City University and spent four months living in West Virginia. She lived in Paris for a year in her early twenties and vaguely thought about writing. She went to London to write her first novel, Love in Row 27, which is set there. Her follow-up, Grace after Henry, is set in – and is partly a love letter to – Dublin, where she now lives.
Eithne has been a regular contributor to RTE Radio for several years. She has worked as a presenter with RTE, BBC Northern Ireland and she fronted a music series, entitled Ceol ar an Imeall, for TG4.
Love in Row 27 has been sold into 11 territories and nine languages, while Grace after Henry was acquired by Putnam, an imprint of Penguin, in the US in a headline-grabbing deal. NBC Universal has optioned Love in Row 27 for a TV series.
Eithne is an avid cyclist, veracious reader, eater of sweets and lover of radio. Her Mastermind topic would be the life of Lucia Joyce, twentieth century Irish visual art, 1980s teen movies or Dawson’s Creek. It depends on the day.
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