Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for the ARC copy in exchange for a fair review.
I think most people come to a book written by a celebrity with more than a little scepticism. It’s easy to see why – there’s a lot of tripe written and published because the person who wrote it is already famous, and the publishing houses know it will pretty much sell itself.
However, don’t make the mistake of putting Graham Norton into this category. The man can write.
It was actually going to see Norton talk about his first novel, Holding, that sparked off this blog in the first place. (Take that as you will). I had toddled to the local theatre with my mother to see him be ‘interviewed’ by a local radio host (I think, does it matter?). Alas, the interviewer was rather poor, but Norton himself still came across well (he really does seem as lovely as he is on TV), exceptionally well read, knowledgeable about literature and intelligent. I read Holding in one sitting, remembered what I liked about reading and decided to set up a book blog….where I never did quite get around to reviewing that particular book. Whoops.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the topic (book) on hand.
A Keeper follows Elizabeth Keane as she returns to Ireland following her mother’s death to oversee the sale of her home and wrapping up of her estate. While clearing her mother’s house, she comes across a series of letters that lead her to the identify of her father and the truth about her – and her mother’s past.
While Elizabeth sets about unravelling the mystery that she’s uncovered, her life as she knows it back in NYC is unravelling in an eerily similar way. The present, past and future weave together in a cleverly written novel.
Graham Norton knows people. Of course he does – he’s made a career out of knowing how to get the very best out of people when he interviews them. His biggest strength as a writer is his characterisation. He really gets underneath the skin of his characters: they are real, they are visceral, everything they feel, say, do, or act like feels so very true. He draws in his reader’s empathy from the first page – and this is as true for A Keeper as it is for Holding. There is never a moment that you don’t believe a character would have acted in the way he’s written; you understand exactly why they react as they do, and why they think, feel, speak in a certain way. It’s magical.
Which isn’t to say that all the characters themselves are nice. But they’re real; they’re tangible and you can understand why they’ve done what they’ve done.
It’s also why I’ll forgive the moments of the plot which get a little bit far fetched, or dramatic. Norton is such a good storyteller that you believe them. You want to get to the bottom of the mystery; you want everything that’s happening back in NYC to work out for the best; you want – somehow – for Elizabeth to be able to have that final, impossible talk with her mother where she tells her the full truth. You don’t, of course, get that.
A Keeper is quite a dark book, full of suspense and at times unsettling.There are elements of The Woman In Black – just without the supernatural aspect. It’s skillfully written and paced – slow enough to draw you in and make you wonder, but not drawn out so long you lose interest. Told in flashback and in present day, it weaves a generalised feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction with life, with real tragedy, exceptional circumstances and an almost overwhelming sense of loneliness.
Norton is a skilled writer; you can certainly see that he’s someone with a real passion for literature and storytelling. There is an enjoyment for the written word that comes across clearly on every page. While, personally, I found the ending was a little bit too over dramatic, I can see why he chose to include it as it did fit well with the overall story arc – so perhaps I’m just being picky. (I had to find something!).
I would absolutely recommend to anyone. This is not a book by a celebrity; this is a book by a gifted novelist, who also happens to be a chat show host. (Those that know my opinion of celebrity writers will know that this is an accolade of the highest honour!). I can’t wait to see what he writes next.