A fascinatingly complex look at marriage and relationships (4 stars)
Source- review copy
Published by Macmillan, 25th September 2014 (UK)- released in December in the US.
I read the Kindle edition. The hardcover is 400 pages.
I remember picking up my first Jane Green novel years back and loving its frothy, almost frivolous chick-lit nature. It was fun, the cover was ridiculously girly (leopard print if I recall it correctly) and I positively adored its shallow thirty-something characters who were all about relationships, going out and having fun. Saying that, I think I was in my late teens then too, and all about those sorts of things then myself! It appears in recent years that Green’s books have taken something of a departure away from that light-hearted subject matter, as this book, like her last one is complex and actually pretty dark on occasion. I’m not complaining though- as this was an engrossing read, filled with thought-provoking themes and some sinister subject matters.
Grace and Ted Chapman are THE literary power couple- he a renowned writer and she a charming celebrity chef and cookbook author. Married for twenty years, on the surface their relationship is enviable, yet buried beneath that are Ted’s dark rages and his mood swings.
Following the departure of Ted’s long-time assistant, vulnerable Grace longs for someone else to help them and that’s when Beth comes into the frame. Beth is calm and efficient and most of all able to weather Ted’s fury- yet there is something about her that Grace feels decidedly uncomfortable about. Could Ted’s new assistant actually be the biggest threat of all?
Encompassing marriage, mental abuse, marriage and mental illness, Saving Grace was really a much more serious read than I had anticipated. I went into this book expecting one thing and got something else entirely, but all in all this was a really rewarding read. Its characters had depth, the writing was thoroughly engaging and there was an underlying sense of tension and foreboding throughout that like Grace, you sensed there was something ‘not right’ about Beth. The author did a great job in building up an especially sinister character who from the outset appears to be someone else entirely.
In terms of the characters in this novel, I really liked Grace- though I have to say I felt frustrated by her the majority of the time too. Why would she even stay with Ted in the first place? He was such a bastard and she was worth so much more than that! That being said, Grace is hiding some secrets of her own and when they come to fruition you are able to comprehend why she is the way she is. It’s not always as easy as just being strong enough to ‘leave’ someone and Grace is sadly testament to that.
Ted… the less said about him the better. Talk about an ego! I genuinely wanted him to get his comeuppance in this novel, merely because of how horribly he treated his wife. It is genuinely a positive thing that Jane Green can elicit such feelings towards all her characters, as it makes them seem all the more believable.
I have to say that I just don’t think the recipes incorporated in this book worked, yummy as they sounded. At least they didn’t for me. I read a lot of food related fiction where the recipes are completely in-keeping with the storyline and here, they just felt like they’d been stuck in as something of an afterthought- even though Grace was a chef. They were jarring and didn’t really work with the premise of the story, which made for uncomfortable reading on occasion. Talking about depression or bi-polar disorder or some other deep themes? I know! Let’s stick in a recipe for Toad-in-the-Hole or Shepherd’s Pie and completely detract from the issue at hand. Hmmm… yeah.
I also think the author used this book as something of a platform to take a (not so thinly) veiled swipe at the American pharmaceutical industry. Fair enough, it’s her prerogative as a writer and it’s her book, I also don’t personally know enough about that industry myself to comment, but I did find it somewhat far-fetched that one particular character in this story was able to be heavily medicated so easily based on so little evidence- which is a chilling thought if that can and does happen.
This book was nonetheless a fascinatingly complex look at marriage, relationships and at what can really happen behind closed doors. It just goes to show that no matter how perfect something may seemingly appear from the outside, that this isn’t always the case. Written with great depth and insight, Saving Grace is a novel sure to please fans of Jane Green’s existing work, or newcomers alike and it cements her stronghold as one of the top writers in women’s contemporary fiction today.