Grace After Henry

Grace After Henry

by Eithne Shortall


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525537861
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/12/2019
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 71,761
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Eithne Shortall is the arts correspondent for the Sunday Times, Ireland, and has worked as a TV and radio presenter in her native Ireland. Grace After Henry is her American debut. She lives in Dublin.

Read an Excerpt

Several Weeks Later


There were moments of lucidity-the sound of Dad abruptly starting up the vacuum cleaner and Mam screaming that hoovering disturbed the moths-but most of the early weeks passed in a fugue. I didn't leave the bed, never mind my parents' house, if I could help it. My social circle consisted of Mam, Dad, occasional visits from Aoife, and the three other mourners I met every time I went to visit Henry's grave.

The day I came to and regained some sort of awareness, my parents were jumping around their living room like Native Americans celebrating the arrival of rain. Everyone else's life had continued, all but mine and Henry's. Time kept passing, the sun kept rising and, as sure as spring follows winter, the moths had returned.

"I got him! I got the little bugger."

Dad froze where he stood, right in the middle of the living room-knee bent, hands raised; an impressive yoga pose for a man with a bad lower back-and Mam, from her position on the sofa, squinted at the space above the television, the same bit of middle distance that was entrancing Dad. Neither spoke. It was, I knew because the Late Late Show had just come on the telly, 9:35 on a Friday night.

"You did not get him, Arthur, look. Look! There he is now. Looklooklooklook! Quickquickquickquick!" Mam leaped to her feet, adopting the McDonnell family's preferred stance when it came to the extermination of moths. "There he is!"





"I see him I see him. The fecker! I've got you now, my little friend."

"It's the feckin' heat." Mam grabbed the two magazines from Dad's armchair and held a rolled up Heat in her left hand and House and Home in her right. "The mild winter and all the feckin' central heating. I told you we didn't need the radiators on in March, Arthur. I don't see why you couldn't just use the tumble dryer to dry the clothes. You may as well roll out the welcome mat. They thrive in temperatures above twenty-two degrees."

This was the fourth consecutive year our house had been overrun by moths, and my mother, who had reactivated her library membership to read up on them, had found her Mastermind subject.

"Well excuse me, Sarah," said Dad, momentarily distracted from the assassination by this slight on his housekeeping skills. Since retiring, Dad had developed two passions: domesticity and celebrity gossip. The week he stopped being a driving instructor, he watched the entirety of Lindsay Lohan's trial live on TMZ. And then he was so worried about her that he took to cleaning to distract himself. "If you want to live in a home where you have to wear your winter coat just to go to the bathroom . . ."

"There's nowhere else I can wear it, now they've eaten two big feckin' holes in the arse of it!"

"And whose fault is that? If you'd just hang it back like I showed you, under the plastic cover, which I got special from the dry cleaners, but no, you just throw it wherever you feel-"

"I see him! Arthur! There!"

"Shush!" admonished Dad, his head cocked like Patch used to before he went deaf and forgot he had ears.

"They can't hear us, Arthur." Mam rolled her eyes, trying to coax me into the conversation. But I was still trying to get my bearings.

I had relinquished autonomy the moment I arrived back at our flat, drenched with rain and dread, to find two police officers at the front door. "Grace McDonnell?" And I'd known then, not from what they said but how they stood, with their uniform caps in hand, as if they were already at the funeral.

It was amazing how long you could get away with ignoring everything when you didn't care about the outcome of anything. Emerging from that apathy in my parents' house was like coming to in a madhouse.

"Shush!" Dad adjusted his glasses, his eyes flickering from the middle distance above the telly to the middle distance above my head. "I need to concentrate."

Mam sent her eyes skyward again. She held her own spectacles up to her face.

"There! Arthur, behind you!"

"He's not, he is! He's- Sorry, love." Dad clambered into my chair, crushing the unopened book that lay on the armrest.

"Get him, Arthur. Go on, get him! Get the bastard."


She shrugged off the uncharacteristic profanity. "Just checking you were still with us, pet."

"And . . . smack!" Dad peeled his hand from the mint green wallpaper and presented his palm victoriously. "Mess with the McDonnells and you! Get! Squashed!"

And they both started shrieking, dancing their tribal dance around the rug once again. It was always the strangest things that reminded me how besotted my parents were with each other. They worked so hard to build this life, and they deserved these years to enjoy it together.

That was the point when I stood-something they weren't used to seeing me do without coaxing-and declared that it was time I moved on. Aberdeen Street was ready; I'd signed the last papers, and the keys were mine to collect when I wanted. Henry's parents had insisted I follow through on the purchase. They didn't want the deposit money, and his life insurance would help me through the first year of mortgage payments.

Mam said it was too soon; Dad said I'd be missed and that my twenty-twenty vision was a vital asset in the war against larvae. But I had to go. Every time I looked at them I wanted to apologize for the new lines on their faces.

Within a week, we had moved my stuff into the end-of-terrace on Aberdeen Street that I kept referring to as "our house." The only unpacked bag was the plastic one stuffed with coats and scarves that had gotten caught on the spikes of the gate as Dad carried it in. It burst all over the hallway and, ten days on, I still hadn't found the energy to pick them up.

I thought I heard Henry the first night I was in this house. Thinking I saw him was nothing new; every time I went outside I was convinced I clocked him somewhere, but that was the first time I'd heard his voice. I was in the back garden, checking the door that led from the shed to the laneway was locked. I pulled at the iron bolt to ensure it was solid, and this shot of laughter rang out.

I recoiled from the lock as if it had burned my hand. I didn't move another inch. I swore to god it was Henry's laugh.

My heart pounded in my chest and I felt a wave of nausea but I ignored it. I stood, still as a statue, waiting for the sound that would not be repeated. I remained like that until I started to shiver, then reluctantly I went back inside.

There were days when my only interaction was with the man in the corner shop with the Chinese-Dublin accent who called himself Pat but whose real name was Xin. I bought bread and cheese from him, and he sometimes made observations but never asked questions.

"You're like a vampire," he said, handing over the Brie and baguette.

"Because I'm pale?"

"Because you only come out at night."

But mostly I just sat on the floor in the hallway beside the mound of coats and watched as my phone flashed beside me. I'd been ignoring my mother's calls for three days now. All she wanted was for me to say, "Yes, doing much better this evening." And I couldn't. I considered lying back down on the pile of duffel and denim and wool. There was no end to how much I could sleep.

The phone stopped ringing, and I waited for the single ping. The screen flashed again: "You Have Nine New Voice Mails." She only wanted to help, like Dad when he'd offered to buy me a coat rail. Putting into action something he couldn't put into words. Just like Henry. The white glow faded, and the hallway returned to dark. There was no bulb in the light fixture above me, and I liked it like that. It reminded me of Ebenezer Scrooge roaming around his home in the dark, too stingy to pay for lamps.

Almost all of what Henry was carrying had been obliterated when the wheel of the articulated lorry returning to Dublin Port after a beet sugar delivery had rolled over him. All that had come back to me was his oil-stained backpack and a bizarrely pristine copy of A Christmas Carol. We read to each other most nights, and we'd been reading that when he died. Henry was atrocious at voices, but I made him do them anyway. His Bob Cratchit had me rolling around the bed laughing. We read A Christmas Carol every year, but never at Christmas. Too predictable.

Sitting with my back to the wall and my knees pulled into me, I opened the book to the relevant passage. I angled the page toward the living room so I might have enough light to make out the words.

"Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it," I read aloud to no one, the sound of my own voice making me jump. It had been a while since I'd spoken. "But before he shut his heavy door, he walked through his rooms to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection of the face to desire to do that."

Beyond the front door, people were moving: coming home from work, going to the shop, heading out for a run in the park. But I stayed in the hallway. Every other room was filled with bags and boxes: throws and cushions in the sitting room, clothes in our bedroom, books in the study, and mountains of crockery and saucepans in the kitchen. I couldn't bring myself to unpack any of them. I couldn't be in the same room as them. So I stayed where I was, in the darkness, right where Henry had left me.

I would have given anything to have him back: this house, everything in it, a limb, two limbs, my sense of taste. I would have cut off the last two decades of my life. I would have watched a stranger die.

I would have watched my parents die.

I dug my nails into my arm until the dents didn't immediately disappear. The longing and aching were joined by a fresh wave of guilt. I closed my eyes until the nausea passed. But I had started down this path and I couldn't stop. Even when I opened them I saw it.

I saw him hurrying along on his bike, worrying that I would be cross with him for being late, and that stupid scarf that I had knitted that he never wanted coming undone. I saw the red wool looping into the spokes of his wheel, going round and round until it pulled him under the truck. I heard a decisive crunch as his bones were turned to dust and the squelch like a welly coming away from marsh as his insides flattened. But mainly I saw the red, spinning round, over and over, an indistinguishable mix of scarf and blood and eviscerated organs.

"Why didn't you look where you were going?"

The responding silence echoed around the hallway and throbbed in my ears.

"Why didn't you slow down? Hmm? Why couldn't you just do that?"

I remembered the last time I saw him: he was heading out the door of our flat, his big smiling head asking what the weather was supposed to be like and me saying it'd be windy and- No. No. No. No. I couldn't finish that thought.

"Henry! I'm talking to you. H-"

I choked on his name. I missed his arms and his smell and his existence. It filled me with rage how he never responded, and that made my throat ache more.

"I'm sorry, okay?"

Still nothing.


It was not a statement but a plea. And I flinched at the desperation in my voice. Nobody had ever been coaxed back from the dead by a whinge and a nag.

"I said I'm sorry."

But there was only the confirmation of night. The buzz and click and finally light as the streetlamp at the end of Aberdeen Street illuminated. My phone flashed again, and I slid it away. I allowed my body to slump to the side, and though I was sobbing into the hood of a quilted jacket, sleep took no time. I was exhausted. I was gone before the ping of my mother's tenth voice mail.


"Grace likes telling this story because she likes telling everyone what a dope I was."

"Not a dope. More . . . cringeworthy."

"Great. Much better."

"We knew each other when we were teenagers. Henry lived in the same estate as a girl I went to school with, and I'd met him at house parties. We even kissed once actually, during a game of truth or dare, although Henry complained that I was the one who'd been given the dare so why did he have to suffer."

"I did not use the word 'suffer.'"

"But then Christmas Eve, a few years ago, we were both in my local. The Back Bar. Henry goes there every Christmas Eve, but I'm usually in my granny's. Only she was in England that year, staying with my uncle. So I go to the pub with Aoife."

"You met Aoife at Grace's birthday."

"Really dark hair, yeah, dead straight. That's her. She gets it from her mother's side. So anyway, me and Aoife go into the Back Bar and the place is rammed. But I see Henry at the bar. Half a foot taller than everyone else. And he's in a big group with Claire Maguire, the girl from school. She was the one who had all the house parties when we were teenagers. So anyway I go over, and me and Aoife are going on about how we haven't seen Claire in so long and what's she up to now, but really I've got one eye on Henry the whole time. And I can tell he's looking at me."

"I was just keeping an eye out for my pint."

"And this goes on for a while. Claire's not introducing us, and I can't see how I'm going to get talking to him, and the barman is getting ready to ring the bell for last orders so I start to panic. And Aoife can see I'm panicking even though I haven't had a chance to say anything to her, but she knows I liked Henry all those years ago."

"Best kiss of her adolescence."


Excerpted from "Grace After Henry"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Eithne Shortall.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Grace After Henry 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
gaele 14 days ago
Starting with a particularly grim description of Henry’s demise, we learn of his fiancé Grace, their plans for their life, and their relationship up to this point when suddenly, Grace’s life is upended and she’s struggling to discover the ‘point of it all’. With the sudden loss, we get all the phases of Grace’s grief: regrets, what ifs, moments and memories of their relationships, even remembered conversations that pop from funny to poignant, and the questions that always arise when you lose someone, with or without notice. Fortunately for Grace (and adding levels and layers to the story) are the secondary characters that Grace encounters, from her lovely parents to the “Three Wise Men” as regular fixtures at the graveyard and their clever quips and solid examples of life after loss. Making Grace’s life even more difficult in the midst of loss, when all she really wants is to have Henry back is her ‘seeing’ him everywhere – on the street, in the shops, even in the man, Adam, who comes to fix the boiler. It’s one thing to live with the loss that she’s almost not quite processing with the constant flashbacks to conversations and moments, but to see him EVERYWHERE is wholly unnerving. But, Adam just may have more to his resemblance to Henry than she could have imagined. And what brings even more emotion into the story is the way Shortall wove the issues of adoption forced onto single mothers by the church, and the long-lasting questions and discoveries that follow the adoptees for their entire lives with the ‘closed’ and ‘lost’ records. While it may seem as if Grace started out in many ways ‘substituting’ Adam for Henry, the connections between the two men and her recognition of those similarities seemed to allow her to move along in her grief, and choices, never simple are made – best for all around. Quite an intriguing view of grief, loss and the universe bringing answers and more questions as Grace moves forward after the loss of Henry, allowing for the occasional bad choices and unusual directions as new footing is found. With the addition of friends and family, all experiencing their own reactions to the loss of Henry, or having experienced losses of their own, each serves as a touchstone for Grace, letting her move to and fro with memories, emotions and toward her new ‘what next’. A wholly unexpected story that feels very ‘Irish’ in both intention and execution – the flair for a story that has readers engaged and waiting for the next moment be it laughter or tears, all pulling at heartstrings and memories of those lost in our own lives. Pulling at emotions and curiosity with equal measure, Shortall’s writing and characters are those you want to know and wish the best for. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility,
KarenfromDothan 12 days ago
Henry and Andy are twins living thousands of miles and continents apart. The thing is though, that each of them doesn’t know the other exists. Andy does know he was adopted, and goes to Ireland to research his roots. Henry dies at the beginning of the story, but we get to know him through Grace’s memories of him that are scattered throughout the book. And, what wonderful memories they are! Even though the story begins on a tragic note, it is filled with love and humor. I thought Grace’s elderly neighbor, Betty, was hilarious, as was her best friend, Aoife. I like that the story is set in Dublin. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit and after reading this book I feel like I’ve gotten to know the city and it’s people a little bit better. I loved this book, though I felt sad for Andy. I wish that his ending in the story could have been better.