“It was a brave and unusual decision to choose Grace as the narrator, but Hennessy does a wonderful job at creating a character who alternately repels and attracts. It is perhaps the skill involved in creating such a character that makes this book, despite its unhappy subject matter, such a joy to read.
The ending is deliberately ambiguous, and a little heart-wrenching. The author complicates Grace’s decision to save Mary by leaving the reader with the impression that it was Grace who needed saving all along.”
– Otago Daily Times, 18 August, 2013
“… a well-plotted novel with lovely links that unite the plot, characters and themes. For example, the opening scene is a flashback to an experience Grace has when she was 12 – a visitation at night from what she believes is the Virgin Mary. Twenty-eight years later, 12-year-old Mary comes to stay with her. She feels Mary as a “presence”, but she also comes to love her, in her own way. Visits, visiting, presence, shadows run through the novel – some physical, some imagined, some spiritual. They provide much of the novel’s tension.
… It’s a credit to Hennessy that she can write about a “perpetrator” of the Stolen Generations with such compassion – she enables us to empathise with Grace without at all condoning her behaviour.
It would be hard for any book to follow Hilary Mantel‘s Bring up the bodies, and I must say that for the first few pages of this novel I was a little disengaged. Here we go, I was thinking, another girl damaged by her religious upbringing, but Hennessy soon got me in. She has captured the era – the 1950s with its small-mindedness, its gossipy church communities, its racism and sexism – convincingly. She seems to have listened to her family’s stories well!
…this is a quiet but fierce little book about real people and real situations. It’s not always pretty, but it has a heart.”
–Whispering Gums, 3 July, 2013
“At first this book is extremely confronting and painful to read: Hennessy wrote it in response to John Howard’s statement that Aboriginal children were taken from their families “for their own good” and drew on the stories of a part-Aboriginal grandmother, but she does a good deal more with Grace Smith than make her a white scapegoat.
She is a complex, interesting character and the book develops in unexpected, and unexpectedly beguiling ways, leaving much to the reader’s interpretation.”
–The Advertiser, 6 July, 2013
“While The Heaven I Swallowed is in part a commentary on the Stolen Generation, it was the complexity of the character of Grace Smith which held me enthralled, I put it down only once, and resented even that.”
–Book’d Out, 19 July, 2013
“The use of the first person narrative is skilled as the reader clearly understands Grace’s motives, and understands Mary better than she does. All the characterizations are strong and the claustropbobic atmosphere of the widows’ circle in the parish is particularly believable. The style is assured and the reader is skilfully drawn into the story. The book is recommended for all ages.”
–ReadPlus, 15 July, 2013