Category: Fiction, Contemporary, Historical, Family Drama, Book Review
The mystery of Elizabeth Keane’s father is one that has never been solved by the people of Buncarragh – not for lack of speculation.
Now, as Elizabeth returns to the village after her mother’s funeral, bringing with her own regrets and wounds, she finds a thin pile of ribbon-bound letters at the back of a wardrobe that may at last hold the key to her past.
It was the first week in January and Elizabeth Keane had flown from New York to Buncarragh after the death of her mother. Someone had to put her affairs in order and, while Elizabeth didn’t have particularly fond memories of Buncarragh, she felt guilty knowing she’d been all her mother had.
While her teenage son, Zach has gone to stay with his father on the west coast, Elizabeth had taken the opportunity to travel to Ireland. The story alternates between Elizabeth in the present and her mother Patricia in the past. Elizabeth is hoping she can get the house cleared and sold quickly so she can return home, but while packing up her mother’s belongings she finds a bundle of letters written by her father, a man she has never known.
She placed the box on the floor and knelt in front of it. Wiping the dust from the lid, the dark sheen of the wood was revealed. Walnut? The corners were protected by small inlays of brass. She hoped it wasn’t locked. No, the lid lifted easily. Peering in, the contents were a bit of an anti-climax: a tiny yellow knitted booty and beneath that a thin pile of letters held together by an ancient cream ribbon. Elizabeth slipped the first letter from the pile and began to read.
Finding the letters, and being the recipient of another very unexpected inheritance, alters Elizabeth’s plans as she embarks on a journey into the past and a search for the truth surrounding her birth.
The past and present are woven together very effectively, told basically from just the two perspectives—Elizabeth’s and Patricia’s. I found both threads of the story compelling. Rural Ireland in the 1970s is brought to life incredibly well, with secrets, shocking moments and darkness threaded through the narrative. During Elizabeth’s search for her identity and the resulting discoveries about her mother’s lonely past, she feels regret for the young Patricia and also the mother whose life revolved around her daughter, even as she still feels the lack of displays of affection or love. A situation within her own family causes shock and a sense of frustration at being so far away, unable to do anything, but she’s determined to carry on with her search.
A Keeper incorporates, among other things, wonderful storytelling anddescriptive passages, sadness, lighter moments, loneliness and tragedy, evocatively and perceptively written with unexpected twists. Characters are well observed, even the couple of disturbed and disturbing ones who did generate some reservations, but then people who lived in such out of the way areas nearly fifty years ago probably had no-one to answer to. I loved the descriptions of Cork and the wild coastline, which added tons of atmosphere.
I’m not usually a fan of authors narrating their own work but Graham Norton does a great job and the audio is very easy to listen to.
Graham Norton is one of the UK’s best loved broadcasters. He presents The Graham Norton Show on BBC1, has a weekly show on BBC Radio 2, and writes a column for the Telegraph. He is the winner of eight BAFTA awards. Born in Dublin and raised in West Cork, Norton now lives in London.
His debut novel HOLDING was a commercial and critical success, winning Norton the Irish Independent Popular Fiction award at the Bord Gáis Irish Book Awards in 2016.