Graeme Ratcliffe’s Reviews > Fields of Grace
Wendy Waters has managed to achieve something not often found in the contemporary novel. Her marvellously entertaining book, Fields of Grace, is at once literary yet as plot-driven as a spy thriller. Some writers are quite utilitarian in their use of language, they write well, often very well, but they render in charcoal. Ms Waters does not. She is Monet with a pen, and though her colours shine, they never detract from the drawing beneath, a well-structured and gripping yarn. Gripping, not only because of the emotional investment we can’t help but make in her lovingly realised characters, but also because of the care she takes with their backstories and their various fascinating, quirky, frequently amusing, sometimes sad and, at one point, truly terrifying journeys. From the opening pages I found myself intrigued by Grace Fielders, a woman with a past as exotic, mysterious and hidden as her old trunk, locked away, unopened for so many years. This trunk serves purposes historical, romantic and magical, a capsule to another time and place, the girl who still dances within the dying flesh of this determined yet gentle, ancient lady. A former actress from mystical, rural Devon, Grace relates to her granddaughter, Sam, the untold, erstwhile secret story of her early life, the world she knew before her life became mundane. We find her in the company of an eclectic group of stoically happy, yet emotionally unfulfilled, denizens of 1930s London, boarding at Wyncote House in Gloucester Mews. It is a cozy, very English place, but Grace will not be there for long. Talented and determined she soon finds herself launched into the dazzling world of the theatre. It is here that we meet the famous personalities. Woven seamlessly into the narrative, they tumble out in affectionate and sometime hilarious detail. We find John Gielgud nibbling on cake crumbs from his plate while he sips his tea and gossips resolutely. We are party to the shenanigans of Peggy Ashcroft, the saltiness of Harry Andrews and so much more, all these characters speaking in a voice ringing with authenticity. This is a world now gone but delicious to encounter, even if we might only take a tiny peek. Ms. Waters evokes, with a keen eye, the hazardous world of the theatre in a way that might find the reader giggling, if not contorted in a belly laugh, especially if the reader has ever dared to tread the boards. However, I have barely scratched the surface; there is so much more to this woman’s life. Suffice to say, from the curtain calls of the West End to the back alleys of Nazi Berlin to enigmatic ‘amberglow’, Fields of Grace is a thought provoking, intriguing, sometimes rollicking, sometimes distressing, world-class yet, still largely, hidden treasure. Take her key and unlock Grace’s hidden dusty trunk; you won’t be disappointed.