by Graham Norton
(Hodder and Stoughton)
Following the publication of two very successful autobiographies, Graham Norton surprised many in autumn 2016 with the release of his fi rst novel, Holding. Set in a small Irish town that descends into chaos when a long-buried body is unearthed, the story’s brilliant protagonist and the nuanced portrayal of its female characters led the book to be one of the biggest sellers of the year. October now sees the publication of the eagerly anticipated follow-up, A Keeper.
Elizabeth Keane has returned home from New York to Kilkenny in order to tie up some loose ends following the death of her mother. It’s a convenient escape for her; her teenage son, Zach, has been packed off to San Francisco to her feckless and neglectful gay ex-husband, and the sale of her mother’s house will ease the fi nancial pressures on getting her son through college. She begins a tentative romance, while also trying to uncover the truth behind her own father’s identity after discovering a treasure trove of love letters.
Running parallel to Elizabeth’s story is the tale of her mother, Patricia, from 40 years before. When she places a lonely hearts ad in The Irish Farmer’s Journal, Patricia meets Edward Foley, a shy bachelor from rural Cork who lives with his mother. Events take a sinister turn when Patricia fi nds out that her prospective mother-in-law has become more involved in their relationship than she fi rst thought.
Sadly, A Keeper isn’t as accomplished, or subtle, a book as Holding. Whereas Norton’s debut invested time in developing the emotional lives of the characters and building a sense of their community and shared histories, A Keeper lurches from one hysterical plot point to the next with no real sense of who the characters are or why we should have any sympathy for them. There’s a very engaging and heartfelt story at the core of the book, but it gets buried under layers of excessive storyline, when all we really need is a bit more time spent getting to know Elizabeth, Patricia and Edward better.
This new book feels like a race to the nish, or to deadline, with too much needing to be wrapped up by the end. There’s no question that Norton’s a good writer and Holding showed that he’s well able to get to grips with the intricacies of human relationships. And while this book is undoubtedly a disappointment, won’t be giving up on Norton’s writing just yet.
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