It’s getting chillier here in London so I’ve been staying inside more reading Graham Norton’s first novel “Holding”. I was pleased to discover it’s a story about a small town mystery which hit exactly the right engaging tone that made me want to cosy up under a blanket with a cup of tea and keep reading until I found out what happened. The holding is predominantly about the secrets members of small Irish village Duneen withhold for twenty five years, but which are eventually brought into the open when buried human bones are uncovered at a building site. This is a place where nothing much happens: “Time didn’t pass in Duneen; it seeped away.” So a body being discovered is big news and gets all the local gossipmongers gabbing. At the centre of the novel is the village’s only policeman Sergeant PJ Collins – an overweight, oftentimes solitary man who touchingly discovers the value of being held himself over the course of the novel. This is a thrilling novel with a story that grips you and captivating quirky characters.
PJ Collins finds it difficult to lose weight when his elderly housekeeper Mrs Meany cooks him so many hearty meals. Norton sympathetically writes about PJ’s struggle with self image and his awareness of being laughed at by people, but being helpless to change himself because of the emotional comfort food provides him. When he has the chance to experience a real physical connection it’s tinged with a whole series of emotions because his identity is so tied to the extra weight which has been with him his whole life.
Norton explores the emotional complexity of a number of other relationships in the novel. Three aging sisters who live in one of the village’s finest old houses sounds like something out of a gothic tale. The author creates a really fascinating relationship between the three women and shows how their closeness is both a blessing and a burden. I particularly like the complex way Norton shows how different relationships can sometimes deteriorate. When commenting on the sisters’ parents he writes: “Some marriages combust, others die, and some just lie down like a wounded animal, defeated.” Also, there is the character of Brid Riordan who has become known in the village as someone who too often enjoys a tipple. As a wife and mother of two she’s particularly condemned for doing so. Yet, the author shows how her drinking has become an emotional crutch because of an early heartbreak and problems within her existing marriage.
The compelling hook which made me compulsively read this novel were the intriguing secrets which several characters hold close. It’s well paced so that the reader discovers there is not one mystery, but multiple ones going on in the background as Sergeant PJ Collins and the Detective Superintendent down from Cork investigate and question members of the village. It gradually builds to a dramatic conclusion. “Holding” was such a pleasure to read and it’s wonderful to discover that such an engaging TV presenter is also a talented writer.