A novel can be approached from varying perspectives, simply as bare narrative - a story as such - or as an instrument that encourages us to question our own philosophies. Combining the two often makes for a poignant read.
The latest novel from Melvyn Bragg, Grace and Mary, tells the mournful tale of Mary, now in her 90s and living in a nursing home in Cumbria and losing her battle with dementia.
The narrator is her son John, who, wanting to piece together the past in order to aid Mary's recovery, begins a simple, often agonising tale of three generations spanning from the 19th century to the present.
Believing that there are other paths up the "fearful mountain", he meticulously pieces together fragments of the past in the hope of allowing Mary to briefly revisit a place in the world she would no longer acknowledge. "She wanted to sing. She wanted the detail. It was the detail that brought her most fully to life."
Although painfully raw, and often unbearably sad, Bragg's words echo with magnetic insight into the basic underlying notions of love and humanity. It is, however, a story, inevitably, that leads to an end, and one that prods at our own uncomfortable musings on death and of those we love.