Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper

Fallen Grace--Mary Hooper
June 2010 by Bloomsbury USA
320 pages--Goodreads

Grace Parkes has just had to do a terrible thing. Having given birth to an illegitimate child, she has travelled to the famed Brookwood Cemetery to place her small infant's body in a rich lady's coffin. Following the advice of a kindly midwife, this is the only way that Grace can think of to give something at least to the little baby who died at birth, and to avoid the ignominy of a pauper's grave. Distraught and weeping, Grace meets two people at the cemetery: Mrs Emmeline Unwin and Mr James Solent. These two characters will have a profound affect upon Grace's life. 

But Grace doesn't know that yet. For now, she has to suppress her grief and get on with the business of living: scraping together enough pennies selling watercress for rent and food; looking after her older sister, who is incapable of caring for herself; thwarting the manipulative and conscience-free Unwin family, who are as capable of running a lucrative funeral business as they are of defrauding a young woman of her fortune.

A stunning evocation of life in Victorian London, with vivid and accurate depictions, ranging from the deprivation that the truly poor suffered to the unthinking luxuries enjoyed by the rich: all bound up with a pacy and thrilling plot, as Grace races to unravel the fraud about to be perpetrated against her and her sister.

Fallen Grace an interesting, slow, thoroughly researched novel.  I like this time period and enjoyed learning more about it.  I hadn't realize how huge and crazy the cult of mourning was.  Thanks for that Victoria.  Hooper doesn't shy away from details about the Victorian poor. This book is dark and nitty gritty without being depressing.  There is some mature content, but it is handled well and not explicit or gratuitous.

I liked Grace, but she was just a bit to perfect.  She's one of those beautiful, angelically good women who have no real flaws; they're just trapped in bad circumstances.  The villains are also flat in their characterization.  They're not developed, they're just evil.  Evil.

There's a bit too much deus ex machina throughout the book.  All the characters are connected.  There are random coincidences all over the place.  Things wrap up just a bit too neatly at the end.  It's almost predictable without actually being predictable.  Maybe Hooper is trying to imitate Dickens since he does this all the time.  The narrative also jumps point of view suddenly and without indication.

Can I step aside from the book for a minute and just say that a woman is not fallen or ruined or tainted because she is raped.  I know Hooper was just projecting Victorian morals into the book because that's how the characters would have seen it, but it bugs me.  A lot.  And can we stop talking about pulling girls from the "temptation" of prostitution.  Prostitution is a horrible life that women didn't take up unless they felt they had no other options.

Despite a few complaints, I liked it.  Fallen Grace is a compelling read, though a slow one.

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