I haven’t yet read Norton’s first novel, Holding, but having now read his second, I would definitely like to go back and read the other. A Keeper falls into commercial fiction territory, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In A Keeper, Norton proves that he can create great characters, who set into a twisty plot, made this novel an enjoyable read indeed.
A Keeper is a novel of fractured families, told over a dual timeline, however it starts with a prologue entitled ‘Before’. In the prologue, we meet Edward Foley:
He had to consider the future. What to do next? He wasn’t what anyone would have called young, but still, at forty-one you couldn’t declare your life was over. He thought of his brother James, claimed long ago by the waves. He didn’t have the luxury of giving up, but that was precisely what Edward wanted to do. To site and hug his knees till the tide came to take him. […]
He knew he should go back, but he couldn’t bear the thought of seeing his mother. […] Somehow this was all his fault. It would be the same look she had given him when James had died. An expression that told him that she still loved him but that she could never forgive him. […]
Of one thing he was certain.
His mother would have a plan.
The novel then alternates between ‘Now’ and ‘Then’. ‘Then’ follows Patricia as she embarks on the dating scene in rural Ireland via a lonely hearts ad describing herself as ‘Lonely Leinster Lady’. Edward is the one to reply, a farmer in rural Cork. They correspond for a while, and then they agree to meet. Could he be the one to end her spinsterhood? Maybe, but she discovers he’ll need to cut loose from his mother’s apron-strings.
‘Now’ follows Elizabeth, her daughter, as she returns to Ireland from New York upon the death of her mother. Elizabeth never knew her father, he died when she was a baby, her mother never talked about him. She only knows a name, Edward Foley, so is surprised to find when her mother’s solicitor contacts her, that Elizabeth actually owns a house in rural Cork, the Foley’s home. While she’s in the country, it would be foolish not to visit. However, Elizabeth has more problems to contend with – her seventeen-year-old son Zach was meant to be flying to San Francisco to stay with his father, her ex, while she was in Ireland – but he’s gone AWOL. She’s torn between wanting to leap on the first plane home to track him down, and find out more about her heritage. She opts for the latter, leaving Elliot in charge in SF.
The balance between the two timelines is very well done. At first, as secrets begin to be revealed, we wonder how the stories will develop and Norton cleverly keeps us on tenterhooks until it’s finally obvious how one line will end. But he doesn’t stop there, for there are further shocks in store.
In Patricia and Elizabeth, Norton has created super female leads, but Edward for all his flaws is brilliantly brought to life and you can really feel his isolation and suffering. This novel is sad and moving, but thankfully, not all bleak. A jolly good read. (8.5/10)
Source: Review copy
Graham Norton, A Keeper, Hodder & Stoughton, 2018, hardback, 336 pages.