Happy New Year! I am rather late to this I realise. We have had a somewhat sickly household over the last few weeks, with Covid plus some other assorted ailments, and still not out of the woods yet, but hopefully it’s the beginning of the end and we can start getting back to normal soon. I did just about manage to get a decent Christmas dinner on the table, and we also managed a short trip to Dublin for new year to visit family, but apart from that it has all been very low-key.
I haven’t done much in the way of reading in the last few weeks – partly too busy and partly because my head hurt too much! I managed half a book of Christmas short stories (pictured left), which was nice. In this selection I particularly liked Trollope’s Christmas at Thompson Hall and Alice Munro’s The Turkey Season, both of which managed to pull off that particular skill of being both amusing and poignant. It’s a while since I’ve sat down and read a series of short stories; it’s curiously liberating, like a brief fling, enjoyable and without commitment! That’s not my usual approach to life, I hasten to add, but it was nice, especially in the context of so many other distractions when it was hard to maintain long periods of concentration.
An audiobook I listened to over the Christmas period also gave me great pleasure – Graham Norton’s Forever Home, his fourth novel and another set mainly in his home county of Cork, Ireland. I am a huge fan of Graham Norton’s and have previously reviewed his earlier novels Holding and Home Stretch on here. In Forever Home he explores similar themes of complex family dynamics, love relationships, modern culture and life in Ireland and, in this novel, as in his first, Holding, a slightly macabre twist! There are secrets, there is a sense of shame and a desire to appear normal, even when things clearly aren’t, and in this way the author makes a nod, though not a heavy one, to elements of Ireland’s past that it is still coming to terms with.
The central character is Carol Crottie, a teacher living in a small town in County Cork. She is divorced and has one adult son who lives in London and while they are not exactly estranged, it is clear that his distant and separate life is a source of pain to her. Carol found love again later in life when she developed a relationship with Declan, owner of the local pharmacy. Their love blossomed after she began giving home tutoring to his daughter Sally, who was struggling at school. Sally is a fragile girl, deeply affected by her mother having left the family home, mysteriously, when she was young. Sally’s older brother Killian carries anger and resentment towards both his father and Carol.
Despite this Carol and Declan live happily (though unmarried, because he has never actually divorced his first wife) in the family home for a number of years until Declan begins to develop dementia. In a cruel twist, Killian and Sally secure power of attorney over their father’s affairs, admit him to a nursing home and put the house up for sale and Carol has no rights to object. She is forced to move back home with her parents, into her childhood bedroom.
Carol’s parents are a hoot! Moira and Dave have become wealthy from the chain of coffee shops they set up, capitalising on the modernization in Irish society that happened so suddenly in the early 2000s. Despite this they are old-fashioned and set in their ways and provide hilarious comic relief to the tragic events occurring in their daughter’s life. When they propose to her that they secretly buy Declan’s home, with a view to renovating it and selling it on for a profit, no-one realises what dark secrets will be uncovered and how this will turn everyone’s lives upside down.
This is a fun novel though it is not without its dark moments. All the characters experience a transformation as a result of the events, and it is not all neat happiness. I listened to this on audiobook and, as always, the author’s narration is brilliant, a perfect showcase of his comic and artistic abilities.