The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Book Review by Ceris Aston | 14 May 2015
Book title: The Gracekeepers
Author: Kirsty Logan

‘But when he said to her, we are the sea – that made the most perfect kind of sense. She was the sea, and so was everyone else. We all come from the sea.’

Kirsty Logan's debut novel The Gracekeepers comes like a stiff westerly breeze after a spell in the doldrums, catching the mainsail and leaving us, for a moment, standing mid-air. Against the backdrop of a waterlogged, fantastic world, Logan commands her cast: the players, the acrobats, the lovers, the clowns. Stage-left; a red-faced ring master, a Guinevere, a bear. And, taking turns in centre stage, two young women guarding precious, dangerous secrets.

North is a bear-girl in a circus; Callanish is a gracekeeper, laying to rest those who die at sea. They meet, are parted, and are drawn, irresistibly, towards one another. This is their story, yet not only theirs. Told through the perspectives of different characters, this story belongs to them also – it is Red Gold’s, it is Melia’s, it is Avalon’s. And it is the story of those who have no voice, the ones who no gracekeeper laid to rest. Swept up in the storms and tumult of their own existences, neither the characters nor the reader are fully aware of the tide of larger events – yet there is a darkness and a danger beneath the beauty here. Small horrors coil like worms amidst a tapestry of shells: a reminder of prejudice, and of the fear that pervades the novel, making moments of peace feel hard-won. Whether through the riot of carnival or the ripples of a slow thought, Logan seamlessly intertwines the personal and political, raising questions that aren’t easily resolved.

A rich and compelling novel, The Gracekeepers evokes at the same time Scottish folklore, tales from Angela Carter, and Shakespearean romance. Logan creates a new mythology, where floating circuses are quotidian and it is natural for grief to be measured by the lifespan of a caged bird. And, despite the glamour, the poetry and the fantasy, this story feels natural. Beneath their greasepaints, the characters seem like real people, their relationships and motivations are intimately drawn.

It comes as a surprise to remember that this is Logan’s debut novel (complimenting her award winning collection of shorter tales The Rental Heart). The Gracekeepers has, undoubtedly, exceeded even the highest of expectations. It’s a book to devote a day to, uninterrupted – or you’ll curse the cruelty of the call to work. On the horizon is a story of love and fear; a story of desire, of memory and forgetting. Most debut novelists can only hope to create a story. Gently, deftly, Logan has created a whole world. 

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Out now, published by Harvill Secker, RRP £12.99