This book got off to rather a slow start for me. Elegant Grace, an Englishwoman, is well known as a cook, a gracious hostess, and the philanthropic chef for Harmont House, a refuge for troubled women. She’s also Mrs Ted Chapman, wife of a rich and successful American writer; a wife who lives in constant fear of her husband’s sudden rages and belittling of her. Luckily, Grace and Ted have a wonderful assistant, Ellen, who ensures their lives run smoothly. What a relief not to have to mother her husband; for her husband needs not just a wife, but someone to hold his hand, soothe his soul, keep him calm, and there is only so much Grace is able to do. Why doesn’t she leave him? it doesn’t occur to her to leave. She made a vow, and the only thing of which she is absolutely certain is this too shall pass. It always does …
Ho hum, you might think, here comes an issues book about an unhappy, rich woman. Then Ellen is forced to leave them, Grace can’t cope, Ted’s rages get worse. Suddenly the book turns into a thriller. Grace and Ted’s daughter introduces Beth, a youngish woman who just happens to be looking for a job as a personal assistant and Grace employs her. Beth seems ‘like Mary Poppins’. In no time, she has the household organised, Ted soothed and Grace feeling grateful. Then Grace starts to feel ill, suffering from mood swings and depression; this coincides remarkably with Beth’s arrival. She gives Beth some clothes put aside for charity (Lanvin!) and plain, dumpy Beth suddenly appears in the cast-offs: slimmer, with a new haircut and yes, looking rather like Grace. With this and other incidents, Grace becomes suspicious of Beth’s motives but who will believe that there is anything sinister about perfect Beth? Doesn't the problem lie with Grace, with a history of mental illness in her family? To say any more about the plot would be to give away too much and ruin the read. I’ll just say that I was glued to the book for an evening and even missed a TV programme (Running Up That Hill), which I’d been looking forward to, I was so keen to find out what would happen to Grace.
Because Grace is famed for her English cooking, each chapter ends with a complete recipe. Some of these sound good but kedgeree made with ‘smoked salmon trout’? Noooo, so wrong! Perhaps smoked haddock is unobtainable in the States. While I’m Britpicking here, (Jane Green is English, BTW) no one in England calls the dear old Citroën 2CV (we used to have one) a Deux Chevaux. Don’t be put off; this is a really good read, even if it’s not very literary.
Saving Grace will be published by Macmillan on 25th September. I read it courtesy of NetGalley.