Home Stretch- Graham Norton (2020)

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.

A Keeper – Graham Norton (2018)

Sometimes a book completely resonates.  It’s often just a matter of timing- it fulfils all you are looking for in a reading experience at that present time, even if you’re not always aware that is what you’re looking for.  When this happens, these tend to be the books that stay with you.

I wasn’t aware that I was yearning for an Irish-set family saga which dealt in secrets, infused with a nostalgic glow but hiding a tale of darkness but I obviously was as this book had me right from the start and didn’t let go.

I read Graham Norton’s debut “Holding” pre-publication in 2016 and I certainly did not know what to expect and was most taken aback by his understated slice of small-town Irish life.  From the personality on the screen and from his autobiographies I’d made an assumption of what kind of novel he might write. At the time I stated; “It certainly wasn’t the book I was expecting him to write.  I was expecting sharp, brittle humour and a much more glitzy affair.”  I’ve recommended this book to many readers since then, especially when I wanted to shake up people’s perceptions but I hadn’t got round to reading anything else by him.

Now he is a very much established author of four novels with critical acclaim matching his commercial success, especially in his homeland where he has won the Popular Fiction Book Of The Year twice at the Irish Book Awards (but not with this book, although it was nominated as it was for the UK Book Awards ).  I think on the strength of this Graham Norton deserves his place amongst the finest Irish novelists of our time.

We have two interspersing narratives, “Now” and “Then”.  This structure can be hit and miss as readers tend to favour one or the other and rush through to get to the strand they are enjoying the most, I don’t really have that much of a problem with this structure although I have heard readers complaining about it.  For me, it certainly works well here as the “Then” informs the “Now” throughout.  I think the danger comes when you have two seemingly disparate strands and you spend much of the book waiting for them to mesh together.

There’s a prologue “Before” which is a bit enigmatic but just needs to be kept in mind.  I found myself turning back at a couple of points in the novel and re-reading this. 

New York resident Elizabeth Keane has returned to Ireland to sort out her dead mother’s house.  She discovers letters which suggest she does not know her mother’s life at all.  “Then” features Patricia’s story behind those letters.  Seeing the plot laid out like that it doesn’t sound all that original but I think the author handles the plotline skilfully and weaves a tale which really drew this reader in.

His characterisation is strong.  I really enjoyed both “Now” and “Then” and his feel  for the Irishness within the world he creates felt spot-on for his debut and even more so here.  Some of the minor characters are beautifully realised and this reminded me of Donal Ryan, one of the finest contemporary Irish writers.  Norton certainly knows what he is doing within his popular fiction framework to keep the reader involved.  Secrets are revealed unexpectedly, there’s humour, darkness, a strong feel of the environment with the 1970s small-town coastal setting coming across so well in the “Then” sections.  Also, I slowed down towards the end because I was reluctant to finish the experience- another signifier that this book deserves my highest rating.  Once again Graham Norton has surprised me.

A Keeper was first published in the UK by Hodder and Stoughton in 2018.

Holding – Graham Norton (Hodder & Stoughton 2016)



Graham Norton has joined the ranks of celebrity novelists.  After a couple of autobiographical works he has got the writing bug and has been spurred on to produce the novel he always wanted to write.  For the first half it is surprisingly under-stated, a rather cosy affair.  In the Irish village of Duneen a skeleton is unearthed when builders are working on redevelopment at an old farm.  The body is believed to be of Tommy Burke who had supposedly left some twenty years before following tangled encounters with a couple of women in the village.  It is obvious that some people know more than they are letting on.


TV presenter, chat show host etc now adds novelist to list of achievements

So far, nothing especially distinguished but once Norton gets into his characters the novel develops a stronger identity.  He has created quite a star in Sergeant PJ Collins, the lone member of the Garda for the village, an overweight, lonely man who comes into his own and becomes unexpectedly in demand during the investigation.  Small time Irish life is something Norton obviously remembers well and it feels spot-on.  It certainly wasn’t the book I was expecting him to write.  I was expecting sharp, brittle humour and a much more glitzy affair.  Norton is a natural with yet really does not play it for laughs in quite the way I had anticipated.  It does open out from the charming, slightly dated feel of the cosy crime caper into a cauldron of secrets and lies and it has all been done rather well.  A welcome addition to the celebrity novelist’s club.


Holding is published by Hodder and Stoughton on 6th October 2016.  Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.