Graham Norton takes a break from funny to pen a charming novel
Published in the Witness (07/06/2021)
Graham Norton is best known as the lively and urbane host of his TV show, but he is also a writer. Home Stretch is his third novel, set between 1987 and the present — or at least the pre-virus present.
The action starts in small-town Ireland when six youngsters, two of them a couple on the eve of their wedding, have a horrific car accident that leaves three dead, one in a coma and two, including the driver of the vehicle, unhurt, at least physically.
Survivor’s guilt and the grief of the community is more than young Connor can bear and he leaves, first for England and later for America — the old escape route for the Irish. Connor and his sister Ellen, who stays behind, are the main characters, but the novel does not just deal with grief and guilt in various forms. Connor is also struggling with his sexuality, and with the attitudes of a very conservative Irish society.
He cuts himself adrift, and eventually forges a new life, preferring not to think too much about what is happening back in Mullinmore or the family he has left behind.
Meanwhile, Ellen is trapped in an increasingly miserable marriage, but eventually both siblings will be forced to confront uncomfortable truths about the past and how its long fingers have reached into their present — seen at different points over the 30 years that follow 1987.
Home Stretch is an easy read, and if at moments the long arm of coincidence seems overly intrusive and some of the surprises aren’t all that surprising, what is most interesting about the novel is the way in which Norton shows how societal norms have changed over 30 years.
He does it elegantly and with a light hand, allowing the characters to grow believably from a hidebound conservatism to a much more modern acceptance of people and their differences. It gives the novel a warmth and charm.