Graceland, Bethan Roberts’ fifth novel, is a fictionalised recreation of the early life of Elvis Presley that focuses acutely on Elvis’s close relationship with his mother, Gladys. Beginning in 1957 when Elvis — already a huge star at 22 — is called up for military service, the novel layers chapters examining the performer’s chaotic childhood with chapters filled with grown-up dilemmas concerning show business, money and love. As it weaves back and forth between 1937 and 1958, the narrative allows the past as we experience it to work as a commentary on what is to come. With a light touch, Roberts shows us how the child is father to the superstar. Elvis’s early life was often extreme. We see his uncomprehending trepidation as a small child waiting outside the jailhouse while his mother visits his father who is doing time for forgery. (“Was he chained up? … Did he sleep on straw?”) We observe the grief Elvis and his mother share for Elvis’s twin, Jesse, who was stillborn 35 minutes be...

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