Dear Grace by Clare Swatman – The strength of female friendship at any age and the power of the past

Dear Grace by Clare Swatman

Anna is about to meet a new client. She is a carer, visiting people’s houses to help with domestic tasks. She travels by motorbike, as her car was a casualty of her recent separation. Grace turns out to be a  very special elderly lady with a mind of her own. As they get to know each other it is obvious that this will be a special relationship, with the rather lonely Anna befriending Grace as she struggles to come to terms with the death of her beloved Roy. She has memories of her first love, Arthur, and the way that the relationship ended which still upsets her. Her great nephew Tom is her favourite, helping her with the garden, but he seems less than pleased to see Anna.

There are so many questions in this book, so many very human situations to be experienced in this well written novel. Anna and Grace are wonderful creations, vivid characters in their own right. The ninety-four year old Grace is inspired to remember her youth, her eagerness to work as a journalist in a job usually the preserve of men, the experience of War. This is written in a vibrant style as Anna becomes involved in Grace’s life. She has a few good friends, but her husband’s infidelity and other difficulties in her marriage have left her with many doubts. This book is full of the problems of the past and the discontent of the present, but Grace’s irrepressible spirit and humour shines through the narrative. The setting, of the unusual landscapes of Lowestoft, is a worthy basis for this story of people and place. I enjoyed this book and was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.

At first Anna is nervous of Grace, unsure what she is being employed to do by this independent minded woman. Grace soon enquires whether she has “a young man”, saying “A lovely young girl like you ought to have someone to love her.” Anna protests that she is forty next year and therefore no longer young, but Grace scorns such a belief. Indeed, she soon introduces the topic of Tom, who helps her with her garden and much else, as well as teaching children to swim and running his own business. It is obvious that he is Grace’s favourite relative, the only one who visits her regularly. Anna is interested to hear about this helpful man, but her first impression of him is anything but favourable. Indeed, he seems to actively resent her, and it is only their mutual care for Grace that keeps them in the same space. As Grace demands that Anna take her out in the local area, they revisit places that are important to both of them, albeit decades apart. Anna was close to her grandparents, is sad about her marriage, and relies on her few close friends. Like Grace, she has important memories of the area, and that is an important element of the book. 

This is a very enjoyable book which has a lot to say about the nature of old age, the power of the past and the strength of female friendships. The style of the writing is positive and thoughtful, and there is real depth in the characters that Swatman has chosen. The developing relationships in the book are realistic, and certainly not without challenges. This is a most enjoyable book and I recommend it as a rewarding read.