"Holding" Graham Norton
So it's obvious why I wanted to read this! We are all very familiar with celebrity comic Graham Norton and this is his first foray into fiction writing. It's clear from his television work that Norton is a bright, sharp, intelligent guy so I was intrigued to see what kind of novel he might produce - while simultaneously not trying to raise my expectations too high or put too much pressure on Mr Norton!
Here's a quick synopsis for those not familiar with the book blurb:
The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn't always been this overweight; mother of two Brid Riordan hasn't always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn't always felt that her life was a total waste.
So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke - a former love of both Brid and Evelyn - the village's dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community's worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.
This book reflects a different side of Norton - his wit lies more unassumingly between the lines; less obvious, more heartwarming and perhaps more sincere than that of his bold, cheeky, upfront persona presented on screen. In "Holding" he reveals a depth to his writing that shows an assured understanding of people, emotional journeys, choices and dilemmas -which is probably what makes him such an appealing and successful interviewer and chat show host.
"Holding" has the accomplished feel of an established Irish author and keeps very comfortably within the tradition of Irish Contemporary Popular Fiction. Norton clearly feels very at ease with this genre and I was impressed with the conviction of his character's voices, particularly the women.
The book feels very effortless and it is very fluent. The town of Duneen is described in a soft, mocking tone and Norton easily establishes an atmosphere and setting with a few wry sentences:
"People didn't stop in Duneen. In defence of the casual traveller, there was little reason why they should.....Time didn't pass in Duneen; it seeped away."
There are many characters in this novel - the setting of a small village automatically provides Norton with a cast of protagonists whom he breathes much life and colour into. Each character is three dimensional, complex and most definitely relatable and believable. They are engaging and entertaining; PJ particularly, is a character of which the reader can not help but grow fond.
"It was still quite unsettling for the village that their safety depended on a man who broke into a sweat walking up from communion."
And there's a lovely balance between mocking the folk of Duneen without being crass, unkind or creating caricatures for a cheap laugh. For example, PJ's struggle to take the reins on a real crime are well captured:
"Somebody knew......Was there a conspiracy of silence amongst the good people of Duneen? They seemed sheepish and furtive....Did they all have something to hide or were they just unsure of how to treat him now that he finally had a real crime to investigate?"
Norton's descriptions are adept, original and expertly fitting. He talks about Susan Hickey's "small round face with its mouth pursed like a balloon knot ....red and shiny from a mixture of heat and excitement". It's a book full of chuckles and smiles.
As the story progresses there are passages of extremely accomplished description. Norton's humour and initial light, delightful voice adapts with the plot to match the shift in atmosphere as the deepening police investigation reveals more sinister and more emotional past events. He can ably create tension, suspense and mystery giving the book a more involved plot.
"It might have been a ghost, but then the crunch of a heel against some loose grit on the road betrayed that it was a living soul. Someone was walking with a steady confidence through the darkness up the hill past the primary school. One foot in front of the other, both hands clutching the collar of their coat to their throat though it was a mild, windless night."
Norton's writing is gently charming and humorous but he is also capable of very powerful, darker imagery. The quote below epitomises how the religion culture still underpins these Irish communities and it captures the sense of appearance and judgement which haunts (or controls) some of them. Norton is capable of great empathy and can imply much characterisation with a few deft strokes of subtle suggestion.
"A vision drifted into her mind where she was nailed to the big cross that sat behind the altar. She saw her grey haired head slumped to one side, the blood from the crown of thorns trickling down her face, her body draped in a silky dressing gown. All the people of the village she had ever known, alive or dead, sat in the pews and glared at her, their eyes full of unforgiving judgement."
I found the story lines of some of the characters really moving and well written. I liked the story arc and how everything became interwoven. It was a hugely enjoyable read - quick, light but with enough thought provoking moments and enough troubled characters to stay with you once the final page is read. It's a very satisfying read.
I loved the ending -an inspirational metaphor!
"PJ flicked through the pages of a life not yet lived. He thought he liked the sound of this chapter."
I like the sound of this chapter too. Does this mean "Holding" is the start of a series and we will see PJ again in another novel from Norton? I hope so. I really hope so!
My thanks to NetGalley for approving my request for an ARC of this book in return for a fair review.
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