Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Linn Ullmann

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Grace

Title: Grace
Author: Linn Ullmann
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Grace - US
Grace - UK
Grace - Canada
Miséricorde - France
Gnade - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Nåde
  • Translated by Barbara Haveland

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : spare novella

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ A+ 15/9/2004 Susanne Brandt
The Guardian . 25/2/2006 Sam Thompson
The Guardian . 13/1/2007 Catherine Taylor
Independent on Sunday . 22/1/2006 Paul Binding
The NY Times Book Rev. . 30/1/2005 Bruce Bawer
Die Zeit . 7/10/2004 Peter Henning

  Review Consensus:

  Most are impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Ein Buch ohne Fehl; nur schade, daß wir es nicht im Original zu lesen vermögen. Denn die Übersetzung hat ein paar störende Haken und Ösen, verursacht durch Sprachdummheiten, wie sie im Alltagsdeutsch ihr Unwesen treiben. (...) Zum Glück schmälert keiner der Patzer ernsthaft den Eindruck, den der Roman beim Leser hervorruft." - Susanne Brandt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "By an odd failure of the novella's curiosity, the two pillars of his story -- his death, and the love that justifies his life -- remain things we only hear about. This means that although Grace is insightful and accomplished, it is unlovable, and hard to take as seriously as it takes itself." - Sam Thompson, The Guardian

  • "Ullmann's mesmerising, spare novel is a robust yet delicate account of that most prosaic, mysterious event of all. Comparable to Philip Roth's magisterial Everyman, the humour is drier, the poignancy more overt, yet it is equally, quietly impressive." - Catherine Taylor, The Guardian

  • "In this extraordinarily fearless novel Linn Ullmann invites us inside fear itself (.....) (T)his exemplary account of an unremarkable but unique man's journey to the moment of death and beyond." - Paul Binding, Independent on Sunday

  • "(G)rim but consistently absorbing (.....) An elegant stylist with an original voice (and a top-notch translator, Barbara Haveland), she is especially good at capturing moments of poignancy, often with a trace of gallows humor. (...) Slim but by no means slight, Grace is not an argument for or against mercy killing. Rather, it's a delicate, haunting portrait of a fainthearted man trying his best to meet the end of life -- and love -- with a modicum of dignity and, yes, grace." - Bruce Bawer, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Linn Ullmann beschreibt und begleitet einen kleinmütigen, bisweilen sogar würdelosen Vertreter seiner Spezies, einen Jedermann. Doch indem es ihm am Ende gelingt, sich seine Fehler und Schwächen zu verzeihen, gewinnt er erstmals Größe." - Peter Henning, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Grace is a three-act novella following the decline and death of Johan Sletten. It begins with the diagnosis that there is little hope left -- "Six months, maybe more, maybe less", the doctor finally admits.
       Johan's first wife, Alice, died a quarter of a century earlier, and he married Mai, a doctor considerably younger than him, with whom he found greater happiness. Estranged from his child from his first marriage, Andreas, he and Mai have no children of their own.
       Once he knows that there's no hope Johan does have one big request, demanding of Mai: "But when I say it's time, I want you to help me." He wants that element of control; it is, of course not that simple. As a child he had implored Death to take his father instead of his sick mother, and later Mai aborts their malformed child: control over living and dying hasn't been straightforward in his past, and it won't be in the future.
       Grace is, in part, a novella about euthanasia, but not unpleasantly fixated on the subject. Mai is uncomfortable discussing it, and Johan's pleas simplistic and desperate; ultimately they think they understand each other (or at least choose to think it), but while it hovers over most of their interactions it is not the constant focus of the book.
       Bits of Johan's past, memories and ghosts, fill the story, and it is these scenes that are the most successful: Mai lying to him about the weather, or his ignominious fall from his position at a newspaper, for example. He is weak and without many accomplishments to brag about. Mai is among his redeeming features, as she inexplicably (to him) loves him, though remaining also a mystery to him.
       The illness takes its course, the decline prolonged and sometimes painful. There is a reunion with the son (and his girlfriend, nine months pregnant, life and death meeting perhaps too obviously), and the inevitable comes.
       Its sketchy presentation -- effective for parts, but not the whole --, its refusal to reflect on the words and actions of the characters (specifically but not solely regarding the euthanasia issue), and the wilful denial that is presented as a final solution (yes, a character actually says: "I won't tell anyone about this, Mai, not if you don't") make it a less than satisfying work. Johan's death is still that of a stranger: it is sad but doesn't touch the reader. Even (or rather: especially) Mai's alleged love for him -- which might make for some reader-empathy -- isn't adequately portrayed.
       Despite the artful sketches, the decent character-study of Johan, and the occasional sense of 'grace', Grace is ultimately not particularly satisfactory as either a story or a cautionary modern death-fable.

- Return to top of the page -


Grace: Reviews: Linn Ullmann: Other books by Linn Ullmann under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Norwegian journalist and author Linn Ullmann was born in 1966. (And, yes, she is the daughter of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman.)

- Return to top of the page -

© 2005-2010 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links