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Grace Hardcover – January 25, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This slim, grim novel—Ullmann's third—tells a chilly tale charged with the moral ambiguity surrounding euthanasia. Terminal illness stories are often exploited for emotional payoffs, but Ullmann (Stella Descending; Before You Sleep) skirts the sap factor by casting a cold, hard light on her characters. The story begins in a doctor's office, where Johan Sletten, retired journalist and paragon of mediocrity, learns he has six months to live. As his health deteriorates, Johan muses on the major events in his life. His first marriage to Alice was almost cartoonishly unhappy, and resulted in a son he barely tolerates. Two years after Alice is run over by a car, when Johan is 47, he marries Mai, a 30-year-old pediatrician. Despite her brisk manner and penchant for unnecessary lies, she represents everything that is good in Johan's life. Through all of this, one detects the chilly side of Milan Kundera's influence; like him, Ullmann is a sharp chronicler of life's horrible ironies. The trouble is that no larger picture, no wealth of incident or even variety of secondary characters galvanizes this bedroom drama. Worse, the book's unidentified first-person narrator remains shrouded in opaque omniscience and half-amused aphorisms. Ullmann's exclusive commitment to exposing life's banality, combined with her condescending tone, lock the reader out of a story that was forbidding to begin with.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Relieved--in fact, pleased--by the accidental death of his irritating first wife, horselike Alice, the mother of their adult son, Andreas, Johan is remarried to the significantly younger Mai, the love of his life and beautiful to him, though colleagues on the newspaper for which he is literary reviewer think she is "a dog." But she is his grace and comfort, even after he is fired for going to press with a review plagiarized from a tiny German journal. Well, he had become supererogatory after 40 years, so his leave-taking is reframed as early retirement. Now, five years later and facing his own death, Johan recalls his mother's refusal to be at his dying father's side. Surely Mai, his virtual physician in her steadfast love, won't waver when he asks her to be his angel of death by enabling a graceful demise? Wrenching in its straight-ahead simplicity, lucid in Haveland's smooth, elegant translation, Ullmann's short novel resonates with a reader's inner, subliminal fears of deterioration in the face of death. Wonderful and chilling. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400042852
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400042852
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,999,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This short novel hums with honesty as it charts the life of a terminal patient, Johan Sletten, and his circle, but GRACE never stoops to cheap sentiment. I would like to unpack another review, which contends that Linn Ullmann has "an exclusive commitment to exposing life's banality" and a "condescending tone" that locks the reader out of the story. Taking the word at face value, of course life is banal -- what else can it be? We all have in common that we will die; there is nothing original there. Yet Ullmann emphatically finds meaning in life, in simple things like the dark strands of hair of Sletten's second wife, or her dutiful tending to a boil on his face. The human connections are true and moving, and we are only "locked out" of this story if we are expecting to be covered in sentimental goop and "feelings" a la the Oprah show; thankfully, Ullmann does not oblige. A condescending tone? Ullmann is clear-eyed, grown-up, and has no illusions about human virtuousness. If that's condescending, then Joseph Conrad was condescending. GRACE is a beautiful little book.
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Format: Hardcover
I love the way Linn Ullmann has portrayed the married life in a darker, more surreal manner in Before You Sleep and Stella Descending. She does not sugarcoat the events when it is time to show the darker side of characters in love. Ullmann takes things to unflinching heights with Grace. This novel centers on a man's terminal illness with cold, unsentimental language that is both thought provoking and disturbing. Jonah, a journalist, learns he has six months left to live. As he waits around for death to befall him, he regales the reader with stories about his former relationships and the things he had done up to the moment that the doctor gives him the terrible news.

There is no way to summarize the plot of this novel. Linn Ullmann readers know that her novels are complex -- they jump from one different scene to another, with a lot of magic realism into the mix. The most fascinating part of Grace is the author's ability to turn what could have been a sad story into something disarming. The characters are all dark and unpleasant -- and the language of the novel makes them all the darker. The ending is one of the most disturbing ones I have read. I finished this book last night and I am still spooked over some of the scenes and passages. This is one incredible novel. Linn Ullmann has proven once again that she is a talented Scandinavian literary novelist. I recommend all of her novels, including this new piece of work.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
... how can you hope to die with grace? That's the dilemma of Johan Sletten, a man in his 60s who has been diagnosed with an incurable disease, presumably cancer, and warned that he will die a nasty death within six months. Johan's life, as he painfully reviews it, has been largely a failure -- a mediocre career as a journalist, capped by a scandal that forced him into retirement, a miserable first marriage, a loveless fatherhood and a son he's ashamed of. The only grace he can claim for his life is the love of his second wife Mai, whom he literally calls his "grace". Now that he must live through the horror of dying, his most agonizing fear is the disgrace of losing control, of dying disgustingly, as his own father had died. Mai is a doctor, and it's with Mai whom Johan pleads for help in his assertion of a graceful death.

This is not a first person tale; supposedly Johan is a 'friend' of the narrator, but the course of his death and the scenes from his memory are all told from Johan's viewpoint. I think that's one of the limiting factors of this novella; the 'words' are not really Johan's, and Johan lies on his hospital bed just beyond our psychological credence. Mai is an unknown hovering presence, an object of Johan's mental perception, but perhaps it was the author's intention to imply that "another person", even one's sole beloved object, can never be depended upon to be 'known'.

One of Johan's happier memories is of his childhood, of picking wild strawberries with his mother, yet even that memory stirs a fear of abandonment and isolation in him. Wild Strawberries? Haven't we encountered such a scene in another work of art from Scandinavia? Another tale of the approaching death of an old man?
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A really great opening to a book dealing with a subject not everyone is comfortable with ... approaching death. The writing is sharp, incisive and sardonic, the plot deals very well with a difficult subject and I would have given five stars if somewhere along the way the subject matter hadn't overtaken the delivery, but it did, and then the weightiness took over. This was probably intentional, probably admirable, but didn't make for the most enjoyable of reads. Still, would recommend it, when you are feeling bouyant.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This novel about dying, without the cloying sentimentality that accompanies most novels about death It is about the character of a self obsessed man who approaches death with great fear and very little dignity and a wife who completely lacks sentimentality, but possesses great dignity and great love.

These two characters are really the only two characters in the book. The book is very short, and the addition of other characters if portrayed as honestly, could have provided some interesting complexity to the book.
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