Stella Reads: An Uncertain Grace


Author: Krissy Kneen

Publisher: Text Publishing

First Published: 31 August 2017

Rating: 5 stars

“I shellfish down into myself, now as I did them when I met her, curling up into the calcium carbonate whorls of me.”

Some time in the near future, university lecturer Caspar receives a gift from a former student called Liv: a memory stick containing a virtual narrative. Hooked up to a virtual reality bodysuit, he becomes immersed in the experience of their past sexual relationship. But this time it is her experience. What was for him an erotic interlude, resonant with the thrill of seduction, was very different for her – and when he has lived it, he will understand how.


A convicted paedophile recruited to Liv’s experiment in collective consciousness discovers a way to escape from his own desolation.

A synthetic boy, designed by Liv’s team to ‘love’ men who desire adolescents, begins to question the terms of his existence.

L, in transition to a state beyond gender, befriends Liv, in transition to a state beyond age.

Liv herself has finally transcended the corporeal – but there is still the problem of love.

An Uncertain Grace is moving, thoughtful, sometimes playful, it is about who we are – our best and worst selves, our innermost selves – and who we might become.

Looking at the whole Stella Prize shortlist, I was interested in An Uncertain Grace mostly because of the structure. And this book didn’t disappoint. It’s stunningly written. So much so that I could just about underline every phrase, that’s how much I loved the writing style. The story is told in five parts, which are all interlink by one person, a writer named Liv.

The story’s plot is a little hard to define, as there isn’t one narrative thread. Each section has its own self-contained plot. But I will say each section feels like it could be it would slot right into an episode of Black Mirror, as it explores what constitutes as perception and memory through the use of some rather strange technology.

Liv is at the centre of everything, with varying degrees of importance. In the first section, she sends her virtual memoir to her old lecture and lover, so she is the focus because we see her perceptive along Caspar’s. In the second and third sections, she’s a researcher who’s using stories as a way to help map data for groundbreaking therapy in relation to pedophilia. In L’s section, Liv is an old woman L meets at the clinic where they’re transitioning to neutral gender. We get Liv’s own point of view in the final section, which explores the need for human connection even when she’s beyond the physical realm. Ultimately Liv and story are what sit’s at the heart of this narrative.

This is a book that got me thinking about just how important story is to everyday life. The way we view the world, both past and present, is through a narrative structure. And narrative shapes the way we tell the story. And since we are the ones viewing the world it’s own our perspective, history, views, opinions, culture and beliefs that shapes and colours what’s happening. The technology created throughout to highlight the importance of story and perception. But also looks at what experiencing someone else point of view might do to change us, to possibly make us better people.

Keen’s writing is a beautiful juxtaposition of lyricism with crude descriptions of sex, masturbation and genitals. Which may sound strange but it really worked for me. If you’re uncomfortable with reading about sex in particular from a male perspective than this one might not be for you.

An Uncertain Grace sits at the dark intersection of sex, predators and technology. It’s a stunning exploration of memory, perception and story. I adored this book and is going to stay with me for a while.  If this at all sounds intriguing to you, please pick up a copy.

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