What can be said about The Gracekeepers that hasn’t already been said? Nothing much… Everyone already knows how beautiful it is, and has shouted it from the rooftops, so I’m finding it hard to put into words how much I think you should read this book… But I want to throw my two cents in! I’ll try, because I just want to share my love of it with anyone who will listen. Seriously.
Keep on reading to find out why I loved this book so much.
As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance. In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future. Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.
The Gracekeepers is set in a post-apocalyptic world which is mostly covered in water. Those who live at sea are called damplings, and it is the landlockers who reside on the expensive but sparse islands that are dotted around what’s left of the planet. The mixing of damplings and landlockers is simply unheard of, other than those times when they must trade or entertain to survive, so the meeting of our two heroines is unlikely – until it happens, and their lives change forever.
Through the burdened Gracekeeper Callanish, she who buries the dampling deceased, and North, a girl with a bear and a growing secret who travels from island to island with a floating circus, we come to know of love, loss, and life in this new world. North and her circus family must wear bells on their ankles when on the islands, Callanish is far away from her home island in the Graceyards, surrounded by water. North and Callanish’s lives must undergo drastic changes, for one those changes are thrust upon her, for the other she must choose for herself.
The Gracekeepers is narrated by interchanging characters with each chapter. While it is mostly told by our two heroines, Callanish and North, we also get the perspectives of supporting characters – I found this to give a greater insight into the world and story Logan has created, as well as the two main characters from outside of their own viewpoints. While I can’t say that had the novel been told only from the two points of view it wouldn’t have worked, I did feel as though it kept the narration exciting. It was a great choice by Kirsty Logan, her mastery of those voices is impeccable. I’d be happy to read more from this world, even without North and Callanish, if it meant characters like Red Gold, Flitch, and Melia were telling us about their little big lives.
The characters in this book are just sublime. The names are interesting and memorable enough, but they themselves are open and raw enough to make you fall in love with them very quickly. Most of them, at least. I’ve never felt so connected to characters in a book before as I did with Callanish and North, not so intensely or so quickly. I could gush all day, really.
The Gracekeepers is quite melancholy in a slow, mournful way, while at the same time being beautifully uplifting, and heart-opening. I will admit that it was kind of slow paced, the only thing compelling me to pick it up was how beautiful the writing was, not an urgency to find out what happens next. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I just ended up enjoying it slower than I expected to. Had this book been rushed it would have ruined it completely.
This is the kind of book that inspires you to write, while also making you want to give up, because you worry you’ll never write anything that comes even close to this. It’s also bloody beautiful, physically as well as lyrically that is. I wish my photographs could do it justice. The UK hardcover is flawless. On the 10th of August, Kirsty’s new book A Portable Shelter was published in hardback by The Association for Scottish Literary Studies, limited to 1000 copies. I pre-ordered a copy and it has arrived (albeit, a day late) so look out for that review some time soon. It will be published in paperback by Vintage in due course, so if you haven’t managed to nab one of the hardbacks you will be still be able to read it, and I’m sure the paperback will be beautiful because come on, it’s Vintage.
My personal rating: 5/5. Amazon average: 4.3/5. Goodreads average: 3.67/5.
Publishers: Harvill Secker, Vintage.
Publication Date: April 23rd 2015.
Follow the author on Twitter: @KirstyLogan