Broadcaster Graham Norton is perhaps best known for his hosting duties for a show on BBC Radio Two and The Graham Norton Show on BBC America and BBC One. Norton also deserves praise for his work as a writer, with two memoirs and a best-selling debut fiction novel, Holding, under his belt. His second and latest work of fiction is called A Keeper, a rather suspenseful story spanning two time periods in Buncarragh, a small town in Ireland.
Elizabeth Keane, who resides in New York City, takes a trip back to Ireland following the death of her mother, Patricia Keane. Dealing with cousins and sorting through the junk in the old house are tasks she dreads. Just entering the house itself is difficult in her mind: “Nobody lived here, and that realization struck Elizabeth with greater force than she had expected. She felt as if something had been stolen from her.”
However, things take an interesting turn when she chances upon a box of letters to her mother from Edward Foley. Having never met her father, Elizabeth’s curiosity is piqued and she begins to research her parents’ relationship. It leads to more meetings with the relatives, but also with some interesting elderly people and a possible new love interest.
While she’s processing the new developments, Elizabeth is also juggling her own responsibilities as a mother. Keeping tabs on the whereabouts of her teenage son Zach and remaining polite with her ex-husband seem to rankle her to no end. It’s a side story that’s amusing at first, but quickly propels itself into something else entirely. There are plenty of opportunities to explore the parallels running between Elizabeth’s life and her mother’s. Their situations are different, but the same feelings of grief, uncertainty, and inner courage resound through the pages.
At intervals, the book switches to forty years before to Patricia’s story. Norton helpfully titles those chapters as “Then,” while Elizabeth’s are “Now.” Having just lost her mother, still single Patricia wants to settle down and marry a nice Irish farmer somewhere. Her friend Rosemary persuades her to submit a lonely hearts advertisement to The Irish Farmers’ Journal.
After examining the unpleasant responses from three other men, a more friendly letter from Edward Foley catches Patricia’s eye and she decides to embark on a courtship with him. However, they tread ever so awkwardly through a first meeting. “How had the man who had written her such sweet letters been turned to stone in her presence?” is the prevailing thought in Patricia’s mind.
The puzzle gets even more complex when Norton adds Edward’s creepy mother and their house in the middle of nowhere to this mix. The mother really seems invested on having this courtship work and could be described as downright odd. If I go on further about what else transpires, I run the risk of spoiling the rest of this exhilarating tale.
Typically, I would be wary of having so many threads in two different timelines, but Norton proves highly adept at ramping up the intrigue and maintaining a high level of clarity throughout his prose. There is slight overlap between Elizabeth’s discoveries and Patricia’s firsthand experiences, but it does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the book. Rather, it’s quite heart-breaking to see Elizabeth realizing certain things that she never knew about her mother.
Norton does an excellent job at pulling these threads together at the final chapters. The ending is a satisfying matter on both timelines, but I wondered if it comes just a tad rushed and too neatly for Elizabeth. The conclusion for Patricia and Edward is much better, especially when it pulls in a little of Edward’s perspective on the situation.
A Keeper is a welcome addition to Graham Norton’s growing fiction portfolio. He weaved together a strong Irish tale of mystery and self-discovery that is sure to hold you from start to finish. Keep a box of tissues handy for when you do power through it. Don’t be surprised if you can’t put it down. I read it in one sitting.