Grace’s Table, by Sally Piper
Grace has not had twelve people at her table for a long time. Hers isn't the kind of family who share regular Sunday meals. But it isn't every day you turn seventy. As Grace prepares the feast, she reflects on her life, her marriage and her friendships. When the three generations come together, simmering tensions from the past threaten to boil over. The one thing that no one can talk about is the one thing that no one can forget. Grace's Table is a moving and often funny novel about the power of memory and the family rituals that define us.
Grace’s Table by Sally Piper was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards, a nomination richly deserved.
I found this novel near perfect in its execution, characterisation, language and delivery. It’s a deceptively simple story about a family gathering for a 70th birthday party but manages to achieve the life story of that family in the telling. I read it in two sittings over one weekend and I’m glad I did. The gentle un-spooling of the story allows the reader to be fully ‘in the room’ with the family.
The central character, Grace, is so finely drawn through human observation, tics, experiences and her interaction with time, places, people and food to lend a layering akin to trifles as rich as any made by Grace’s mother.
It is an excellent depiction of family dynamics, power and dysfunction and the way a marriage can define and shape a family’s world, for better or worse, as well as the strengthening solace of lifelong female friendship.
As a writer I was impressed with so much Piper achieved here in her elegantly simplistic story: the characterisation is perfect, every single character so well rounded and believable. The descriptions of food its power to bring people together and to separate: it’s meaning, preparation, symbolism, connotations were poetically and evocatively depicted. The lush, poetic descriptions of food had echoes of Babette’s Feast by Karen Blixen and the preparations and memories echoes of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. The discussion of the reason for Grace’s choice of ‘baked custard’ as one of the deserts for her birthday meal is an example. The list of deserts Grace was choosing from, and why they weren’t selected made my mouth water.
The historical, socio-economic and fad significance of food across the four generations of the book: Grace’s parents, Grace and Des, her children, her grandchildren was like a snapshot of the urbanisation of Australia through the same period. Moving from rural people living off the land, the era of butchers and meat and two vege, today's awareness of sugar and the trend to eating less meat and deserts. Butchery, and all its connotations and meaning, was at the heart of the characterisation of Des. Piper dissected and employed all those connotations with impressive mastery and a great sense of timing.
But for me the most impressive element was the clever pacing and withholding of information, the teasing of the reader throughout the novel. There’s a great tragedy within the novel and it is revealed perfectly and travels throughout the narrative from the first to last chapter. Grace’s Table is a masterful, wise and life-affirming novel that brought this reader to tears. I look forward to Sally Piper’s next novel with excitement.
I also loved the cover design of the book and was pleased there was no pepper pot on the table!
By Sarah Ridout, Le Chateau, Echo Publishing