“ Genre: Fiction / Author: Barbara Delinsky / ISBN: 0061092827 / Publication Date: 2005 / Publisher: Avon Books „
Women's fiction is a fairly new genre which largely deals with life's ups and downs looked at from a female perspective. In it's early days, one of the best writers in this genre was Barbara Delinsky, an American writer who originally wrote romantic fiction but really found her forte once she moved to writing women's fiction. Shades of Grace was one of her early books dealing with the effects of early onset Alzheimer's Disease not only by how it affected the sufferer but also the impact it had on the wider family.
Grace Dorian is a highly successful journalist and writer with a very successful advice column She's often called upon to appear on TV as well as fulfilling many public speaking engagements but when she finds herself forgetting how to operate her telephone and wondering why she's on an aeroplane flying to some unknown destination, she knows that something is wrong. When Grace receives the diagnosis she's been dreading, it's her daughter Francine who has to cope with Grace's loss of memory and grip on reality.
Although this book was written back in the mid-1990s, the theme of a woman's gradual loss of self awareness as her Alzheimer's takes hold, is every bit as relevant today and Barbara Delinsky has produced a poignant story which shows not only how the sufferer deals with the early stages of the disease but also how the diagnosis affects everybody with whom they come into contact and especially close family.
The family at the centre of this story covers three generations of women: Grace, the matriarch is sixty-one and at the absolute peak of her career, a career which she has turned into a family business where she is supported not only by her daughter, Francine, who acts as her assistant and right hand woman, but also by her granddaughter, Sophie. The family aren't strangers to illness as Sophie has type 1 diabetes and this subject is also covered well within the story though it's dealt with more than an incidental than a major issue.
The brunt of responsibility for Grace, as her disease worsens, falls to her daughter Francine and the story is told mainly from her perspective. She is a divorcee who is as different from her mother and daughter as it's possible to be. On the surface, she lacks her mother's talent and beauty but it's her inner strength which ensures that Grace doesn't have to be fearful of the future. Her strength of character is further tested when she discovers secrets from her mother's past which reverberate down the generations.
I can't say I've had much experience of the effects of Alzheimer's Disease and definitely not the early onset variant so this book helped to explain the many pitfalls that can and will be encountered as the disease progresses. Although the story is set in America, the situation is a universal one and treatment doesn't vary to any great extent.
Despite the seriousness of the subject, the author handles the issue with a light touch, not diminishing the condition by any means but dealing with the broader consequences rather than dwelling on the negatives, of which I'm sure there are many. The story is told in the third person which allows the reader to view events from various viewpoints and the story is particularly poignant when told from Grace's perspective and shows the absolute panic the sufferer feels with the realisation that they don't know who they are or what they are supposed to be doing. It also shows some of the many little ruses sufferers use to hide their early symptoms from friends and family.
Of course, as Barbara Delinsky began her career writing romantic fiction, there is also a love story told within the novel but this doesn't take precedence over the main issues in the novel and it helps to leave the reader feeling that there are some positives which can be taken from even the worst of situations.
This book would definitely appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult. It was the first novel to set Barbara Delinsky on her new career path and certainly proved she was a first rate writer capable of distilling the essence of a difficult human condition and turning it into a highly readable form. It isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it would be churlish not to give it 5 stars because the author has certainly managed to write a book about one of life's more challenging situations and wring out the emotion without ever straying into the realms of the mawkish.
A measure of the quality of the story is the fact that it has been reprinted a couple of times since it was first published. Copies can still be picked up from as little as 1p.