When I saw Saving Grace, the most recent book by Jane Green, I wasn’t really enthusiastic about reading it. I’ve read and enjoyed most of her novels, but some of her more recent novels have felt too choppy for me. Jane Green has a distinctive style, in which the character’s voices can be quite abrupt, but Saving Grace was much more to my liking with characters who thought in full sentences.
The heroine of the novel is Grace Chapman, a beautiful and elegant middle aged English woman, who is married to a best selling American writer. On the surface, Grace’s life looks idyllic. Grace has a grown up daughter, good friends lives in a farmhouse on the Hudson River in New York state. She sits on the board of a shelter to assist abused women and cooks for the shelter. Cooking is Grace’s passion and there are recipes at the end of some chapters, which is a bonus for people like me who like to read recipes. (I often have great intentions of making recipes I’ve read in novels, but despite occasionally going so far as to buy the ingredients, so far have never followed through with the actual cooking).
Underneath the surface though, Grace’s life is not ideal. Her husband, Ted, is a bully, whose books are becoming less popular. Grace has a history of being a victim. Her mother had mental health problems and when she was ill, treated Grace very badly. Ted’s long time assistant has also recently left their employ, causing their well organised life to deteriorate.
Grace and Ted attend a function where they meet Beth, who seems like the answer to their problems. Grace employs Beth as Ted’s assistant and she quickly becomes indispensable to him. Beth also takes on household jobs and assists Grace with work for the shelter. Little by little Beth insinuates herself into their lives. Beth quickly transforms from a plain and frumpy woman to become slimmer and more elegant, modelling herself on Grace’s style.
Beth also begins to undermine Grace, with Ted and with her work at the shelter, calling into question her sanity. Eventually Grace is misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and becomes dependent on a cocktail of drugs. (The author makes a very strong point here that Americans have the highest incidences of bipolar disease and drug use in the world, and suggests that this is because of the influence of drug companies rather than true cases of mental illness in society). Either way, things come to a head when Grace catches Ted and Beth in an embrace and is locked up in a mental asylum because she became very, very angry. (I found Grace’s anger in this instance to be completely normal and understandable, but what would I know?)
Grace escapes to back to England to her surrogate family, where she is weaned off the drugs, correctly diagnosed with menopause and meets up again with the man who has always loved her. Things end up working out, (I suppose they always do, one way or another) but for me, the biggest part of Grace’s growth was realising and admitting that as both Ted and her mother’s victim, she had also played a part in enabling them to bully her. I don’t agree with bullying in any form, but all of the bullies and victims that I have ever known have both had a particular role in their relationship.
Based on my enjoyment of Saving Grace, I’ll go back to looking forward to reading the next Jane Green book.