The Saving Graces (by Patricia Gaffney)

I'd never heard of Patrica Gaffney before. Yet this book was, apparently, a best-seller in the USA a few years ago. It doesn't seem to have had the same effect in the UK, for some reason.

'The Saving Graces' is the story of four women in the USA: Isabel, Lee, Emma and Rudy, who have been close friends for some years. They meet regularly in a group which they call 'The Saving Graces', for a reason that's explained early in the book.

I got a bit confused at first. The first chapter is narrated by Emma, who is a journalist. She explains a bit about the group, and also about each of the other members. Then the second chapter is narrated by Lee - this is what confused me, since I didn't realise the narrator had changed until she started talking about Emma.

This is the way the whole book is written, with all four of the 'Graces' narrating a chapter in turn, all in the first person. I love the idea of using four narrators, since it gives different perspectives on so many situations. The only slight problem was that the narrative voices were remarkably similar, so that I often forgot who was supposed to be writing until I looked for the name at the top of each page.

I found myself drawn into the storyline quite strongly by the time I was around half way through. Each of the four women has problems which surface during the telling of the story: Isabel has a broken marriage and is recovering from a breast cancer operation; Lee has a wonderful husband, but is unable to conceive the child they both want; Emma is in love with a married man; Rudy, who had an appalling childhood, is married to a very controlling husband, although she doesn't seem to realise how manipulative he is.

Moreover, their characters are very different: Isabel is quiet and observant, into New Age healing and healthy eating; Lee is organised and practical; Emma's something of a free spirit; Rudy is stressed and desperate to please. Yet they have a strong bond of friendship despite their differences, and although they bicker occasionally, they give all they can to help each other when serious crises occur.

Some of the book is light-hearted, some of it is more serious. Towards the end, there were parts that were very moving, and I admit to a few tears in my eyes a couple of times. The conclusion of the book was encouraging and hopeful, after a highly emotive scene that almost pushed itself into the limits of schmaltzy sentimentality - but not quite. The author managed to stay just the right side of the line, in my view. I thought I might cringe, but I'm glad to say that I didn't.

There's slightly more bad language than I'm comfortable with, although it wasn't excessive and was mostly in character for those who were using it. Other than that, I recommend it to anyone wanting a light holiday read with a bit of emotion.

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