Published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 6th 2016
Genres: Dark Comedy, Family & Relationships, Fiction, Humorous
Graham Norton's masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.
The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn't always been this overweight; mother of two Brid Riordan hasn't always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn't always felt that her life was a total waste.
So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke - a former love of both Brid and Evelyn - the village's dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community's worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.
Darkly comic, touching and at times profoundly sad. Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of loveable characters, and explore - with searing honesty - the complexities and contradictions that make us human.
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Chat show host, raconteur, actor, comedian – Graham Norton already has several strings to his bow. Now he can add ‘author’ into the mix, as following on from his highly successful memoirs, he’s ventured into the world of fiction with his début novel Holding.
Excitement tends to pass by the quiet village of Duneen, much to the frustration of it’s only police officer P.J. Collins. So when human bones are unearthed on the building site for a new housing development, P.J. and the residents suddenly find more to talk about than the usual village gossip. Can P.J. crack his first real case, or will his emotional attachment to those involved steer him down the wrong path?
By setting his début novel in a similar (albeit smaller) village to the one he grew up in as a child, Norton has played it safe and stuck to the familiar, and that’s not a bad thing. ‘Holding’ is dripping with the kind of detail you can only depict through experience, adding to the overall atmosphere of the novel, giving it a richness and depth so often missing from first attempts at fiction. Immediately, we get thrown into an almost ‘soap-opera’ type scenario, as rumours spread about the discovery of human remains – there’s even a cliffhanger ending to a chapter as a character hears the shocking news – and during these opening chapters we’re quickly introduced to the main participants in this tale.
While officer Collins is the connecting cog between all the others, he’s not the strongest character, at times coming across as clichéd and cartoonish. Whether this is Norton’s over-reliance on his character’s physical characteristics it’s hard to tell, but at times he felt under-developed. Norton’s ability to get in the mind of his female characters is clear as these are the backbone of ‘Holding’ , especially the three Ross sisters, Abigail, Florence, and Evelyn. While Florence is mainly a background character, both Abigail and Evelyn shine as truly nuanced and well-developed women. United by the tragedy that befalls them as young women, they project themselves as an impenetrable unit, caring deeply about each other’s well-being, while at the same time avoiding any discussion of their feelings:
It wasn’t like that between them, between any of the sisters. Life had taught them well. Feelings were to be feared , pain was to be avoided at all cost, and if that meant not experiencing joy, then so be it.
As a rival for local boy Tommy Burke, Brid Riordan still has little time for Evelyn, even decades later. Due to her alcohol addiction, she’s seen as irresponsible and reckless, especially by her husband. But what that addiction hides is a deeply unhappy woman: full of resentment towards Evelyn for ruining her chance at the perfect life, and with low self-esteem thanks to her mother, she’s ambled through thinking she’s worthless. There are moments when Brid’s narrative strays towards ‘movie of the week’ territory, but Norton brings it back, often with his trademark wit and warmth.
Norton clearly cares about these characters, nurturing them into realistic depictions, and it’s this aspect of ‘Holding’ that is the strongest. Unfortunately the plotting is wobbly and obvious, and well suited to Sunday evening tv. There are also a few issues with narrative chronology as Norton tends to let the narrative wander all over the time-lines with no clear delineation – almost as if the narration is having it’s own little flashback mid-sentence. These foibles are, thankfully, few and far between, but when they do occur they are the proverbial sore thumb.
As first works of fiction go, ‘Holding’ is one of the funniest, most sincere, and genuinely lovely novels I’ve read in a long time. I’d love to say I want more, but then that might mean we lose Graham from his fabulous Friday night show, and I don’t think anyone wants that!
BUY THE BOOK