Grace

Johan has bargained with Death for years: when he was a boy, he prayed that Death take his father, not his mother; when he was a man, Death kindly removed his wife, Alice, allowing him to marry Mai, the love of his life. Now, Death has come for him, and Johan needs to strike one last bargain: when the moment arrives, he wants Mai to promise that she will help him on his way out of the world.

Johan has been mainly a paragon of mediocrity; it is only through his love for Mai that he has seen the greater possibilities that life can sometimes offer. He is determined that his passing will be dignified, controlled - perhaps even comforting. But when the time comes, and Mai has finally agreed to help him, he is no longer sure even that he has asked the right question. His deathbed is not as he imagined. His life - as a husband, lover and father - was never what it could have been. And, why is it exactly, he wonders, that his one true love has agreed to be his angel of death?

Linn Ullmann’s haunting novel portrays a passionate love affair, and asks difficult questions about life, love, and death. Finally, in prose of cool precision, deep insight and dark wit, it illustrates how the most ordinary of lives can, in the end, be unexpectedly touched by grace.

For Grace Linn Ullmann received the literary award The Reader’s Prize in Norway and Grace was named one of the top ten novels that year by the prestigious newspaper Weekendavisen in Denmark. In 2007, Grace was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in the UK, and in March the same year, the Norwegian theater Riksteatret played a successful run of the theatrical play Grace, based on the novel.

Reviews

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Praise for Grace

Linn Ullmann is a novelist and one of her most beautiful novels is Grace. This book leaves an impression which overwhelms everything. Linn Ullmann need not use thorough explanations. She observes. She lets her characters relate. In simple sentences. But, in mysterious ways these sentences capture even the most shaded feelings. Everything in this book is clear, but at the same time enigmatic as death itself. Grace is a kind of book that gives us a feeling that books can make us better human beings. Concurrently it is fabulously dry, without sentimentality, but moving in almost every line. Linn Ullmann is a great artist and it is high time we in Germany get to know her
– BERLINER ZEITUNG (Germany).
Linn Ullmann surpasses herself with this short novel. She tells the story of Johan’s last days with such closeness and mercy that it makes you feel like you have been at the deathbed of your beloved
– BIRGITTE (Germany)
Wonderful and chilling … Wrenching in its straight-ahead simplicity, lucid in its smooth, elegant translation, Ullmann’s novel resonates with a reader’s inner, subliminal fears of deterioration in the face of death.
– BOOKLIST (USA)
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, NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW (USA)
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
– CATHRINE TAYLOR, THE GUARDIAN
The 38 year old Norwegian author Linn Ullmann has written a subdued, lucid story on themes that are easy to grasp, slightly mocking at times, and often quite melancholy … Grace shows something that is perhaps only possible to convey through literature; the unique quality of the death of each single person
– DER SPIEGEL (Germany)
With grace, ease and beauty, Linn Ullmann interweaves the major concerns and fears of elderly people into the story about Johan. She creates a great character out of this little man, without distorting him. A magnificent, unspectacular and moving short novel
– DIE WELT (Germany)
A flawless novel … Linn Ullmann transforms the average into the extraordinary … Linn Ullmann shows a highly independent force, she is dependent of no one. However, she cannot deny her artistic origins. She is the answer to the demand formulated by Goethe in his study at night: ‘What you have inherited from your fathers, you must rightfully achieve in order to claim it
– FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG (Germany)
It ’s sparsely written and elegantly monochrome
– KATE SAUNDERS, THE TIMES (UK)
A work of stunning emotional magnitude … An elderly man dying of cancer finds redemption through his wife’s love, in Linn Ullmann’s minimally drawn, quietly detached, very moving new outing … Ullmann writes with a wondrously light, deft touch, selecting the most telling, startling detail to sketch her characters. Her detachment is wry rather than cold, and her pared-down portraits result in real characters who carry all the true-life wight of self-doubt and inner purpose
– KIRKUS REVIEW (USA)
Ullmann’s novel is brief, and her style sparse, but the tale is weighty and compelling.
– LIBRARY JOURNAL (USA)
Linn Ullmann has composed a book of rare power, like a drama in three acts … where the tenderness is terrible and the compassion merciless
– LIRE (France)
Starting with Before You Sleep in 1998, Ullmann has published four novels. Spare, terse and austerely beautiful studies on the cusp of change or calamity, this is clear-sighted, large-hearted fiction without illusions but never without pity – or without humour …. Ullmann traces Johan’s journey into sickness with an elegant literary grammar of cuts, close-ups and flashbacks
– Literary Editor BOYD TONKIN, THE INDEPENDENT in an interview with Linn Ullmann (UK)
Linn Ullmann’s elegant and concise novel is a study of life and its exquisite banality …it is exactly this ordinariness, and Ullmann’s ability to get the arguments and moments of tenderness just so, that makes the novel so quietly devastating … Grace is, in a sense , about what happens in between, the major and minor events that occur over the course of any given day.Ullmann’s triumph is that even when dealing with the weightiest of these she has the lightest of touches.
– NATALIE MOORE, TIME OUT REVIEW, five out of six stars, ‘Book of the Week’ (UK)
Linn Ullmann masterfully manages to fill even the spaces between the lines. With only a small number of flashbacks and events making the text a convincing story, she succeeds in creating an incredibly dense and intense atmosphere. Tension builds, leaving the reader almost breathless, even though nothing really happens. Yet something does take place. The reader feels the spark.You are drawn in by the tension between the two spouses: their anxiety, their insecurity and their hopes. The stirring and dramatic ending of Linn Ullmann’s empathetic novel Grace is surprising.
– NDR (Germany)
In this extraordinarily fearless novel Linn Ullmann invites us inside fear itself … This is a work of the most intricate and impressive artistry, with past and present, fantasy and stark actuality, emotion and the clinically physical, not so much juxtaposed as flowing in and out of each other, like themes in a piano work by Maia’s admired Schumann. There is also, paradoxically, much humour … [an] exemplary account of an unremarkable but unique man’s journey to the moment of death and beyond
– PAUL BINDING, THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY (UK)
The Norwegian author Linn Ullmann is a master of literary density. In her new novel Grace, she once again succeeds in raising the existential questions of mankind in compact form, thus touching the reader’s feelings … There is hardly one single reader who will not be affected by Grace. The book evokes grief, but its unsentimental style offers comforts as well.
– THE NEWS AGENCY DPA (Germany)