Van has finished reading…Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty

15 Jul

There is darkness in Catherine McKenna’s life. Catherine is battling depression. Unmarried, fearing the harm she may inflict on her child, Catherine travels home for her catholic father’s funeral. How can she explain to her estranged mother what she can’t comprehend herself? It’s through music that Catherine tries to make sense of herself and her surroundings, in music that she seeks a sense of faith. Each mirrors the other – her compositions laced with latinate high-church reference, and her view of religion immersed in the language of composition.

It’s a book of halves. The first part is latest in the timeline, and yet reflecting on the distance of her origins, her introduction to and immersion in music; the second part steps back in time to the point of estrangement, moving forward through the birth of her child, the breakdown of her relationship and a level of recuperation in composing. It seems a strange approach to take at first, until that mirroring is brought to a perfect cadence in the closing scene: the broadcast of Catherine’s finished work, Vernicle, in which we see the story we’ve just read mirrored perfectly.

I always feel it’s a testament to the artistry of writing –as with the artistry of music – when one can appreciate a piece of writing not just for its intrinsic interest or the emotional response it conjures, but for its composition too. There’s not an ounce of fat on this story. It feels composed, rather than written, lifting the prose above a mere line of words on a page. Much as Catherine hears with the bones in her head, we feel with our eyes as we read. Sublime.


2 Responses to “Van has finished reading…Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty”


  1. Van has finished reading…The Chimes by Anna Smaill | vanisreading - 13/01/2016

    […] in danger of throwing far too many big names around but I was reminded of Bernard MacLaverty’s Grace Notes, and in particular Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. This latter was a particularly strong […]

  2. Van has finished reading… An Equal Music by Vikram Seth | vanisreading - 04/07/2017

    […] In the early pages I had the sense that it might be a kindred read with Bernard MacLaverty’s Grace Notes, though that really is the highest of bars where both writing and writing about music is concerned; […]

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