Off the Shelf: Home Stretch, by Graham Norton

Off the Shelf: Home Stretch
By Graham Norton. Coronet Publishing ISBN 978 1 473 66518 7 2020 362 pp.
Review by Terry Kenneally

Graham Norton is the author of the novels Holding which was a New York Times best-seller and won the 2016 Irish Independent Popular Fiction Award, and A Keeper. Born in Dublin and raised in West Cork, he is one of the UK’s best loved broadcasters.

It is 1987 and a small Irish community is preparing for the wedding of two of its young inhabitants. They are barely adults, not long out of school, and still part of the same set of friends they have grown up with.

As the friends’ head home from the beach that last night before the wedding, there is a car accident. Three survive the crash, but three are killed, including the bride and groom. The driver, Connor Hayes, is relatively unscathed and the book explores the devastating effect it has on him, his parents, and sister Ellen, among others.

Staying among the angry and the mourning is almost as hard as living with the shame of having been the driver. He leaves the only peace he knows for another life, taking his secrets with him.

Traveling first to Liverpool, then to London, he makes a home-of-sorts for himself in New York. The city provides shelter for the displaced, somewhere Connor can forget his past and forge a new life.

Set predominantly in the small Irish town of Mullimore, near Cork, and told over three decades, Norton demonstrates his keen understanding of the power of stigma and secrecy – with quietly devastating results. Home Stretch is, at its heart, a character study, and each of the characters within this community are brought to life so vividly, that it feels as if they are real rather than fictional.

This is a heartwarming but powerful story of family, friendships, lies and secrets. Home Stretch offers a needed insight into previously taboo homosexuality in 80s Ireland, and in that respect, reminds this writer of the John Boyne book, The Heart’s Invisible Furies.

With this, his third Irish contemporary novel, Graham Norton has established his reputation as a serious writer. Home Stretch is a moving story of loss, guilt, blame, tolerance, acceptance, and how every choice, bad or good, can have long reaching consequences, and affect many lives. This writer rates it a TOP SHELF read.

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