Title: When Grace Went Away
Author: Meredith Appleyard
Published: May 18th 2020
Publisher: HQ Fiction – AU
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 stars
She’s gone … will her family pull together, or fall further apart?
‘Functionally dysfunctional.’ That’s how financial analyst Grace Fairley describes her family in the small South Australian farming community of Miners Ridge – a family fractured by tragedy and kept that way by anger, resentment and petty jealousies. As the eldest sibling, Grace tries to keep the family in touch, but now she’s accepted a promotion to the London office. Time-zones and an enormous workload mean she’s forced to take a step back, although she finds time to stay in contact with Miners Ridge landscape gardener Aaron Halliday.
Sarah Fairley, Grace’s mother, fled Miners Ridge and her embittered husband eight years ago. Now, in the absence of Grace, she finds herself pulled back to the small town where her estranged children and grandchildren live. Drawn into the local community, and trying to rebuild family relationships, she uncovers a long-kept secret that could change her world …
Can Grace, Sarah and their family find a way to heal? Who will have the courage to make the first move?
Australian author Meredith Appleyard explores family dysfunction in her moving life literature title, When Grace Went Away. Appleyard’s fifth release takes a poignant look at family dynamics, strained relations, miscommunication, loss, blame and love. With a hearty dose of drama and emotion, When Grace Went Away will be sure to leave a strong impression on the reader, well before the final page has been turned.
A life changing move from the small town of Miners Ridge in rural South Australia to London, sends analyst Grace Fairley in a spin. As much as she is excited by the opportunity to leave her home and work abroad, Grace is concerned about the family she leaves behind. Devastated by a tragedy that struck at the heart of this family fold, the Fairley clan have struggled to keep their emotions in check. With rivalries, dramatic outbursts and admissions frequently occurring, deep divisions have set in. Grace knows now is not the best time to up and leave to the other side of the world, but when is it the right time? With distance and time playing a factor in Grace’s continued connection to her family, Grace hopes that her family can find it in their hearts to come to terms with their grief and support one another in her absence. Compounding these issues further is the estrangement of matriarch Sarah Fairley from the rest of family, who escaped Miners Ridge almost a decade ago. As Grace has been the glue to hold this delicate family together since Sarah’s departure, it is time for Sarah to take the reins yet again. This proves to be a difficult task, with so many bitter resentments to deal with and relationships to repair. When Grace Went Away is a story of the search for peace, healing, restitution and courage.
It is wonderful to welcome back Meredith Appleyard. I have really enjoyed a number of Appleyard’s previous rural/medical fiction novels. Appleyard’s has made a graceful entrance into the Australian life lit sphere with her new novel. When Grace Went Away is tinged with plenty of insight, reflection and realism. I felt completely embraced by Appleyard’s writing and her connective character set.
When Grace Went Away is defined by a dual voice narrative. We are privy to the close thoughts of Grace Fairley, the title character of this tale, along with her mother Sarah. Immediately we learn of the bitter divide, strained relations and heartbreak that follows this splintered family unit. However, what becomes abundantly clear to the reader is that these are feelings and emotions that every family has faced, is facing, or will face in the future. It made me feel relieved in a sense that my own family is just as flawed and dysfunctional as the Fairleys! The approach Meredith Appleyard takes to this novel is truthful, honest and revealing. No stone is left unturned. Miscommunication and things that are left unsaid seem to dominate the problems faced by this family, but these are common issues that every family must confront at various times. I appreciated the authenticity and realism of When Grace Went Away a great deal.
Appleyard’s characterisation is spot on. Appleyard also moves very easily between the different members of this tenuous family circle. From the strong, determined and stoic Grace (who often reminded me of myself), to the complicated matriarch Sarah and unlikeable patriarch Doug, each is fully realised. The combination of these leads with the periphery character set, who are all carefully rendered, helps to move the narrative forward in an engaging fashion.
The setting is beautifully realised and I enjoyed taking a stroll through the rural locale of Miners Ridge. Country South Australia is a part of our country I would dearly love to visit first hand, but until I can make this happen I was more than happy to indulge in a spot of armchair travel. Appleyard’s recreation of this locale was enticing. Likewise, the movement to some European destinations through the experiences highlighted in the book enables us to see that Appleyard has a very good command of both local and international settings. This was highlight of my reading experience with this novel.
The balance between family drama, estrangement, secrets and relationship repair offers the reader plenty to set their mind to when committing to When Grace Went Away. I was motivated by the strong hope I had in heart that these characters would eventually find happiness, acceptance, forgiveness and mutual understanding. The conclusion did offer plenty of reader satisfaction.
Meredith Appleyard has delicately crafted a novel that strikes at the core of family problems and dysfunction. The experiences and emotions felt so deeply by the character set in When Grace Went Away, will provide a sense of solace to and unite many readers. When Grace Went Away is a well written and enthralling novel that I am happy to endorse.
When Grace Went Away by Meredith Appleyard was published on 18th May 2020 by HQ Fiction – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of When Grace Went Away, Meredith Appleyard, visit here.
*I wish to thank Harlequin Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
When Grace Went Away is book #57 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge