Holding – Graham Norton – Audio Book Review by Pat V.
Set in a small town in West Cork like the one its author grew up in, Graham Norton’s début novel is a serious tale of lives thwarted by frustrated love, self doubt and village politics. More Maeve Binchy than Dylan Thomas, he nevertheless captures the claustrophobia of living in a place where you are judged only on your family history and the acreage of your farm and where every movement becomes the subject of speculation by nosy neighbours, peeping behind their twitching curtains.
One might have expected a farce or comic novel from Norton, given the over-the-top banter of his BBC show or his hysterical performance as Father Noel Furlong in the Father Ted series, but instead, in Holding, he has written a story that is moving and compelling. His characters are flawed and trying to make sense of their lives but that does not make for a dull or depressing book. In fact, there are some very funny moments in the novel and Norton’s instinctive wit lightens his prose throughout while never slipping into the tongue-in-cheek burlesque of some other comedians-turned-novelists.
The unlikely hero of the story is PJ Collins, a garda sergeant in Duneen, a quiet town where, over the past 15 years, the most demanding duty he has had to perform was escorting drunken patrons from the local pub. Having given in to the struggle with a weight problem which has plagued him since childhood, his days now are punctuated by the regular meals and treats prepared by his housekeeper, Mrs. Meany. His uneventful life is turned on its head, however, when builders, digging the foundation for a new estate, unearth a skeleton. What follows is not a traditional whodunnit but a poignant and subtle unravelling of stories, long kept secret, which have poisoned and limited the lives of their keepers.
The title, Holding, refers not only to the farm owned by Brid Riordan, the cause of much of the tragedy in this novel but also to the frustration of Brid, of middle-aged spinster, Evelyn Ross, and of PJ himself, who all dream of being held by someone who truly cared for them. The stories of each of these characters, and the heartbreaking life of Mrs. Meany, form the core of the novel and though it follows the course of a police procedural, that is perhaps the least interesting part of the book.
Norton creates here a group of characters we care about to the very last page and Holding is an engaging and well crafted novel. This version for Audible is read by Graham Norton himself and, though he does it well, it is disconcerting to hear the voice we immediately associate with comedy reading a serious and moving work. At first we keep waiting for the gag or the punchline but the skill of the writing and story-telling draws us in. Norton’s first novel reveals talents we might not have suspected. It is an enjoyable and satisfying page-turner and works well as an audiobook.
This version lasts 7h26 and is available from audible.co.uk