I had no idea that Graham Norton was a novelist until I saw him on Colbert talking about his new book. I like Graham Norton, so I added the book to my TBR pile (also known as my library Hold list). I had zero expectations going in, he didn’t give much away plot-wise on the chat show, so I had no idea what to expect.
I enjoyed it. It isn’t the most amazing book ever, but it’s a quick read and it held my attention throughout. It also went in a direction I really was not expecting, which was kind of fun. It’s one of those things-aren’t-what-they-seem kind of things.
Elizabeth is heading home to the tiny town she grew up in outside of Cork to finally clean out her mother’s house and wrap up her affairs. She hasn’t been back for years, she wasn’t here when her mom died, and she really isn’t looking forward to going back. She’s a bit of the black sheep in her family, and growing up as the only child of a single mother in a conservative town wasn’t always easy. She has made her own life in New York, and while it isn’t perfect, she’s eager to get back to it and her teen aged son.
While going through her mother’s bedroom she finds a box with some old letters. Love letters from her father, who she never met. Her mom flat out refused to talk about him or even tell Elizabeth his name, just that he was a kind man who died tragically. Reading the letters she discovers her mom met him through a lonely hearts ad in an agriculture magazine. At this point the narrative splits and we start jumping back to the early 70s and Elizabeth’s mom, Patricia, starts filling in the gaps between the evidence Elizabeth finds. As it unfolds Elizabeth starts to realize that she didn’t really know her mother very well at all, and that she had probably assigned very inaccurate motivations to a lot of her mother’s actions that had driven her bonkers.
It isn’t a very complex story, but it was interesting enough for me. I will say that Norton really has a way of describing lonely people that feels very real and I identified very much with Patricia. There were a few passages that hit me right in the close to homes with her.
Elizabeth was bit tougher nut to crack. She just seems like kind of a prickly, judgy person. You do get the idea that there was always a level of animosity between Patricia and her brother, and it kind of makes sense why they wouldn’t be Elizabeth’s favorite people, but her cousins seem perfectly nice, and I never really get why she seems so negative towards them. There are also a whole lot of people who are basically strangers going totally out of their way to help her out, and all she returns it with is judgement and kind of a callous attitude of ‘I just want to get out of here.’ I didn’t hate her, it’s clear a lot of this is a defense mechanism of some kind, but I did find myself thinking, “oh come on, lady, get off your high horse” a few times. There is also a subplot with her son that, while I get what Norton was trying to do, didn’t work for me at all. It felt a bit clunky and tacked on. It was a small enough part of the book though, that I was able to gloss over it a bit. though there is almost an element of fridging happening here that is a bit odd and slightly unsettling.
So, overall, it was a good bus book, I enjoyed it. I will warn you, don’t expect a warm, fuzzy, ‘and a lesson was learned by all’ ending. This isn’t that kind of story. I would probably say get it from the library rather than dropping cash on the hardcover, though.
This is my Reading the TBR square on my Bingo Card It’s also a Bingo! Far down (the O line. I’m getting an error when I try to upload it, if I can add it later I will.)