Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
The Review section of The Times in September 2018 had the heading: Review: A Keeper by Graham Norton — a celebrity who can actually write. So who is this celebrity and why this statement?
Graham Norton (born Graham William Walker) is a well-known Irish television and radio presenter, comedian and actor based in the United Kingdom. He is a five-time BAFTA TV Award winner for his comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show. He presents on BBC radio and is the BBC television commentator of the Eurovision Song Contest. His usual style of presentation includes innuendo-laden dialogue and flamboyance, so it was quite a surprise that his first work of fiction Holding published in 2016 was such a commercial and critical success, winning him the Irish Independent Popular Fiction award in that year. This is not the first published work produced by this author but it is for this genre.
His second novel A Keeper, is also generating positive feedback. Both books are set in Ireland where people love a good story. This is where he took inspiration to produce his novels. His books contain incidents and descriptions of the environment that highlight the quirkiness of Ireland.
A Keeper is the story of two women, a generation apart and each story-line is clearly separated at the beginning of their respective chapters with the words THEN and NOW. Elizabeth Keane returns to Ireland after her mother’s death. She has been working as a university lecturer in New York and lives with her seventeen year old son since her marriage broke up.
As she sets about clearing out her mother’s house she comes across a bundles of letters which were written to her mother from the man who Elizabeth believes would be her father and about whom she and the community in which her mother lived know absolutely nothing. This sets Elizabeth on a course to find out more about this mystery man, Edward Foley.
Norton takes the reader through the lives of both women as the mystery is solved. For both of them their journey, as described in this novel, starts with the death of their mothers. Elizabeth’s mother, Patricia, is talked into answering an ad in a lonely hearts column. She believes that this will be her only chance of forming a relationship as having been her mother’s carer for so long she has been left a spinster. To the townspeople’s surprise, she begins dating a mysterious man from out of town. She does not return for some time and it is believed she has married. Approximately two years later she returns to settle down in her mother’s home with a baby. No explanation is ever given to their speculation.
Elizabeth eventually is able to discover the truth from a few people still surviving in the area where Edward Foley lived. At the same time she is trying to cope with problems in her own family that have arisen while she has been away. The characterisation of the people she meets on her quest is beautifully done and adds humour to the story which has its more sinister side. As the author, himself, says when asked about his second novel, A Keeper, ‘This twisted tale of family secrets and ill-fated romances is both darker and funnier than my first book’.
The book, A Keeper, is full of unexpected surprises and the reader cannot but help to empathise with the characters who take centre stage. Even when one should be feeling anger for actions taken, one can understand the feelings and fears that beset the characters.
Norton shows great understanding about the dynamics of relationships and the inherent fears that people can harbour. The loneliness experienced by the two women is delicately portrayed and their role as single parents both in 1970 Ireland and 21st Century America is sensitively handled.
The Title of the book intrigued me and I am still not completely sure who or what it actually refers to although there was a clue where the term was used in the book. I have my own ideas about who this refers to but I am not sure if this gels with the original intention.
I found it an interesting story which incorporated issues that were clearly plausible. I do not hesitate to recommend this author to readers who enjoy a mystery and who love to follow the interplay of emotions and actions arising in relationships.
By Graham Norton