Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
This book is the third novel written by one of the UK’s most treasured comedians and presenters. He hosts The Graham Norton Show on BBC1, a show on BBC Radio 2 every Saturday and is a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
The story Forever Home is not a comedy unless the unlovable characters are something to be laughed at. It has been described as a ‘gripping and darkly comic novel’ (back cover). Most of the characters I found to be sad, either through their dependence on others, their self-centredness or their controlling actions. Carol is a schoolteacher, a single mum since her husband left when her son was six. Her second partner is the father of a student she was helping. His daughter, Sally, came to believe that her father had driven her mother away and then stolen Miss Crottie from her. When he falls into dementia, his son puts him in a nursing home and plans to sell the home which the father had said he never wanted sold. He also tells Carol she must go.
Carol returns to her parents’ home as she had loaned money to her son for a deposit on a home. She had little expectation of ever seeing that money again. Carol’s life becomes monotonous. With the routine of visiting her partner, the days unforgiving and relentless, there is ‘No hope in sight nor any end’ (66). Her parents, who owned many cafes, decided to buy her partner’s home, secretly. Carol is not sure this is the right thing to do but gives in to them. When Carol and her mother go to the property once it becomes theirs, they find a locked freezer in a walled room in the basement. Carol’s mum had always been the boss, so she now takes over but does not tell her husband. Carol ‘like an unwilling volunteer from the audience’ (157) follows her.
The setting for this novel is Ireland and from reading this story, I will not be enticed to put a location like this on my bucket list. ‘Ballytoor looked nauseous. The whole town had the sickly pallor of the terminally ill. The grey of the sky bled into the buildings, which in turn seeped into the wet streets … (with) the drab sludge of the river churning its way under the bridge’ (155). For me, this description epitomised the mood of the whole story.
This story is about family relationships particularly between parents and their children, but it also includes issues of dementia, child abuse, gay marriage, a touch of racism and the discovery of a body in a freezer and what happens concerning that. Who is the body? Who put it there? Whose responsibility is it now? Should the police become involved? This last point I found most intriguing. Why wouldn’t the police be informed? Surely by covering things up, this could only lead to problems for all involved. This last point was enough for me to find out the truth in this situation. This story raises the question of just how far mothers would go to protect their daughters, and looks at the relationship between truth and self-preservation.
The writing is easy to read with some lovely descriptions and the reader is sent down several dead-end avenues with the characters as they try to solve the mystery of what to do about the body in the freezer. Irish vocabulary is scattered throughout. “Mammy”, “whist” and “grinds” were the words new to me.
It was pleasing to see that some of the characters did develop into more positive people by the end of the story. Carol and Sally, at least, were able to experience release. With time, they found they could let go of all that had happened in the past. Other characters still had some way to go to outgrow their self-centredness.
by Graham Norton