Concentrating so much on his mother, through impeccably observed scenes of domestic intimacy, allows Roberts to separate Elvis from the myth. Her calm, understated prose, so plain as to be almost self-effacing, neatly counters the extreme Technicolor glare that Elvis’s life would soon acquire. She maintains, too, a careful authorial distance, refusing to trap Elvis and Gladys inside the prism of analysis. Instead, she leaves room for the reader to try to understand them. Both are haunted by the spectre of Jesse, Elvis’s twin brother who died at birth. Both are plain peculiar when it comes to Elvis’s sex life, his predilection for young teenage girls, whose group visits Gladys facilitates, and who he only wants to talk with, rather than sleep with. Both crave things, but never find what it is they want. This is an impressive, deceptively gentle novel, full of quiet music and even quieter tragedy.
...an immediately convincing evocation of time and place, as well as character, colour, sultry heat and complex emotions. Roberts takes the luridly pawed-over life of Elvis Presley and imagines it afresh through his mother. This might seem an odd project for an author raised in 1970s Oxfordshire, even one whose childhood was sound-tracked by Elvis, but her mournful, yearning account of the King’s making is well executed. Moving effortlessly between the late 1950s and Elvis’s straitened upbringing, it vividly conveys his world.
Graceland is disciplined and surprisingly sober considering its themes. Now and then Roberts allows herself a bit of description that might have come from an Elvis lyric such as “above the roof, the sky is prickling with stars” or “The moon is full, hanging heavy and golden in the sky.” Yet in the main this is that rare thing: an understated, thoughtful novel about a man who wore suits fashioned from gold leaf on stage, which occasionally prompts the reader to burst into song.