The Grace of a Nightingale – Mary Anne Willow

Mary Anne’s story is both ordinary and extraordinary. Ordinary because she was searching for the same things many of us search for: love, understanding and purpose; and extraordinary because she had to go through hell to find them.

Her life was turbulent. Born in a decaying northern town to a dysfunctional family in the 1960s, Mary Anne had to endure mental, physical, and sexual abuse and cope with the devastating effects of parental alcoholism and suicide. She had her self-esteem and confidence crushed by two disastrous marriages, and she lives with the emotional and physical scars caused by a surgical procedure which has become the medical scandal of our age: mesh implants. But, despite everything, she always remained determined to endure and to find something better.

It’s not often I get to post about a book on the day of its release but it’s always nice to be able to do so and feel like I am a bit special.

From the very beginning the reader will find this memoir to be an unflinching and brutally honest read.  Within the pages of TGoaN you will find a range of instances of abuse, both physical and mental, it’s a relentless and a challenging read.

At the heart of the book is one woman’s attempt to make sense of events, and of the motivations for said events. The repetitive cycles of cruelty and abuse, endemic both inside and outside the family, and worst of all having this dismissed by others, or feeling so sidelined that Willow felt she couldn’t approach those in authority.

Shot through with an array of quotes from various authors – as diverse as Émile Zola and Aelred of Rievaulx – these break up the story in a necessary way and give the reader a chance to reflect on those words in both the context of the work on offer and one’s own situation.  Not all of these quotations worked for me but they were always worth a read.

The author’s eventual and unique spiritual findings are perhaps to be expected, after seeing so many others in her life take another path.  With her experiences of torment, it is perhaps something that the reader will understand and find a logical path.

The sheer scale of the events chronicled was unrelenting, and exhausting to me.  It is hard to put into words any criticisms or questions about the book without seeming to be callous.  It was a tough read, not my usual type of book but I took away many things from it, the least being that the ripples of actions taken, and their consequences, both of the intimate and on a wider scale can be far-reaching.

8 Replies to “The Grace of a Nightingale – Mary Anne Willow”

  1. This sounds like a challenging read indeed, and I like your closing sentiment, choosing not to unravel the events and critique them but to have left more aware of the ripple effect of actions.


    1. It was hard at times to keep going but I persevered. Sometimes there is just no discernable reason no matter how we pour over such matters, but without experiencing such things I don’t think my opinion is worth much in that area.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The interesting thing that I find most telling about such experiences is what the person takes away about their own relative importance in the world. What I mean is this: someone once told me that when young children survive abuse, they often take away from the experience that they wouldn’t have been being abused unless there was something special and unusual about them. The fact of the matter is, that abuse happens quite often just because it does, not because the child is extraordinary in any way, it’s just some of life’s random cruelty. But surviving it is another story: there is something special about that. It sounds as if your author by the end of the book has learned not to punish herself because she was punished by others in her life. Sounds like a good read.


    1. The randomness of life, and the actions of others is one of those enigmas. It is a book outside my comfort zone, I am sure there are others who would get a lot more out of it than I was able to. Nevertheless it did give me lots to think about.


  3. This isn’t a genre I read either as I can’t cope with such harrowing stuff and I often feel as though I am being forced into voyeurism. I realise that writing memoirs of this kind can give great release to the author and can often give hope to others in like or similar circumstances.


    1. I think it is certainly a book that offers a path to release. It was a challenge with the sheer amount of harrowing events, I hope that the book can be of help to those who need it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not normally one to spoil the book but there is a positive conclusion and knowing that does help with reading it. I Definitely found this a challenge but took something from it so all is good.

      Liked by 1 person

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