Book Review: Holding by Graham Norton

Title: Holding
Author: Graham Norton
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Expected: 6th October, 2016
ISBN: 9781444791990

Graham Norton's masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn't always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn't always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn't always felt that her life was a total waste.

So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke - a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn - the village's dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community's worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.

Darkly comic, touching and at times profoundly sad. Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of loveable characters, and explore - with searing honesty - the complexities and contradictions that make us human.

I'll be totally honest. I love Graham Norton on screen, and that was my main motivation for reading Holding. It turned out to be pretty much what I expected, or better than, in fact.

Once I was into the story, I couldn't put the book down, and I adored PJ. He's such a great character, and the best part of it is he's a big man who worries about his weight and struggles with his fitness but still eats far too much. He's a gentle, human hero.

I sympathised with Brid, who is the most beautiful character in the story (regardless of what her mother told her). She shows such strength. The author does an excellent job of portraying women with sensitivity to feminist issues.

There are some utterly stunning descriptions of the location, the characters, the events, and many beautiful literary gifts. My favourites:
"Some marriages combust, others die, and some just lie down like a wounded animal, defeated."

"He weaved through the excavations like a small dinghy in rough seas having trouble with its sails."

"She felt like she needed to anchor herself to something or she might fly around the room screaming out her pain like a hysterical balloon."

"Bobby wagged his thick tail furiously from side to side, as if he thought 'business' might be some sort of chicken drumstick."
The story does start quite slowly, and it felt like the introductions of the different characters went on a bit too long; I think it was somewhere around 30% in before the action really started. From that point on, the story rolls smoothly and at speed.

This is, in essence, a cosy mystery, with a lot of gentle Irish humour and many insights into the simple tragedies of life. The author has drawn believable characters - even the baddies tug at the old heart strings - and a rich and wonderful setting.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Irish stories, appreciates a cosy mystery, or likes the murder series on TV but wishes the lead police officer/detective was a little less suave/more believable.

A great book - received through NetGalley.


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