I’ve now read three Graham Norton novels (two in rapid succession) and there’s nothing in this work to contradict my view of him as one of the best popular fiction authors around.
“Home Stretch” has a wider scope than his other novels taking in Irish, London and New York locations and spanning over thirty years. It’s also the first time we have had sexuality as a main theme within the novel and in the Acknowledgements the author salutes those “who stayed in Ireland to fight for the modern, tolerant country it has become.” He states; “I took the easy way out and left to find places where I could be myself.” I both enjoyed this widening of the geographical scope of this and missed the intensity of the small town Irish life depicted in his first two novels. Having said that I was really involved with the sections set in London and New York.
In 1987 the Irish town of Mullinmore is rocked by a tragedy which completely and forever changes the lives of the survivors. The way in which it becomes untenable for a small community to continue with feelings of blame and guilt is so well conveyed here and Connor needs to leave. This is the tale of how things pan out following the cataclysmic incident for those who have attempted to escape and those who have chosen to stay behind.
There’s humour, there’s darkness and there’s the pull of family which both attracts and repels over more than one generation and over three novels Graham Norton has shown how well he handles these aspects. Plot-wise I did see the twists coming but it is the repercussions of such twists he handles well. Timewise there are the odd jumps back and forwards but he does always let us know what year we are in. This structure always necessitates a bit of filling in the gaps which I can feel a bit jarring but he mostly gets away with it here.
This brought him his second “Popular Fiction Book Of The Year” at the Irish Book Awards and was critically well-received. I think by this stage in his career people are getting over their “this is by Graham Norton!” surprise and are accepting him as a fine writer demonstrating a range of skills, now over three books each with a different feel.
I really enjoyed this but I must admit to a slightly stronger affinity towards his second novel “A Keeper.” His fourth “Forever Home” appeared in 2022.
Home Stretch was first published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK in 2020.