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A Keeper by Graham Norton - Review

Monday, September 2, 2019

I had been hearing good things about Graham Norton's fiction books, so I took a chance when I had an Amazon voucher and ordered this. It arrived at the beginning of August and I packed it to take on holiday when I went away mid month as I wanted to get to it as soon as possible. I was camping with my family and literally four people asked me if it was Graham's autobiography or a fiction book! It's fiction! It's great!

The book has a dual narrative. We start off with Elizabeth, an Irish woman who has been living abroad in New York since her early 20s. She has a son, Zach, and an ex-husband, Elliott, who left her for another man. Zach is going to California to stay with Elliott while Elizabeth goes back to Ireland to sort out the house her mother has left her.

Her mother, Patricia, died a few months previously. She lived in a house on Convent Hill in their small town, a house left behind to her by her parents where her brother, Jerry, got left the family business. Elizabeth was brought up in the house by her over-protective mother, and now has the job of emptying it.

Her aunt, uncle, and cousins are all quite nosy into Elizabeth's life, and clearly want the house and its contents for themselves. Elizabeth stays one night in the house, but then discovers rats. She also finds several letters from her father, Edward Foley.

Her parents met through a lonely heart's ad and Patricia went to his home in Cork to meet him. When she returned several months later, she had married Edward, had a baby, and Edward was dead. This is what Elizabeth has always been told, and it's what her family tell her too, although her uncle admits that he and Patricia were estranged at the time. But Elizabeth is intrigued by the father she never knew, and she wants to find out more. She needs to head to Kilkenny to meet with her mother's solicitor.

Meanwhile, in the second narrative, we meet Patricia as a younger woman. Having nursed her mother until her mother's death, she finds herself in her mid 30s quite alone in the world. Encouraged by her friend Rosemary, she places a lonely heart's ad and gets letters from Edward. On paper, he's very sweet towards her, but when she meets him he's really quiet and not forthcoming. But after her first visit, she gets another very nice letter, and decides to visit again.

Throughout the book we learn what made both women tick, what brought them together, how they were similar, and how they differ in their styles of motherhood. I liked both women, I thought they were both really good characters and both extremely strong in similar and different ways. There were plenty of twists in the book, some of which totally blindsided me and some of which I saw coming but relished their reveals anyway.

So can Graham Norton write a book? Yes, absolutely. To begin with, I felt like certain parts were really overwritten, a bit florid in phrasing. I got used to it, though, and I actually think this was one of the most "Irish" parts of the book - certain turns of phrase and the dialogue especially. I really liked it - the book as a whole came across as a bit of a family saga which I loved, and which I read a lot of in my teens. I would definitely read Graham's other books too; I think he has a genuine talent and I would love others to read this book too and talk to me about it!

I'm giving it four out of five.

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