Title: Forever Home
Author: Graham Norton
Publisher: Coronet/Hachette, 2022; RRP: $32.90
Graham Norton is a UK comedian and television presenter, popularly known for his BBC self-titled chat show which is aired in Australia on the 10 Network. Forever Home is Graham’s third novel.
I would suggest comedians are perceptive observers of human behaviour. Success as a comedian comes from the unique perspectives they afford their audiences when recounting their observations. Forever Home is no exception, but dark.
Lurking within this story is a murder mystery thriller. However, there is no eagle-eyed detective disguised as a priest, nor sharp witted elderly lady, and not a Belgian moustache in sight. The villain, or the mostly likely villain, is in a nursing home dementia ward.
The main character, Carol Crottie, could best be described as unfortunate. She is the daughter of a self-made mid-century kitsch couple, founders of Crottie’s Cafes. Is that a deliberate tempting for a slip of the tongue?
Carol’s first marriage ended dismally in divorce. Emotionally alone, she continued with the hum drum of life, raising her only son and working as a teacher. Carol gets another chance at love when she meets Declan and for several years love blinds her to the oddities surrounding her.
The story opens as Carol’s life is again taking a turn for the worse. Declan has Alzheimer’s, and his now adult children have put him in a nursing home and are selling the family home, evicting Carol in the process.
Graham begins this story with a description of an ordinary terrace of houses in an ordinary Irish village. I liked this opening; it had an identifiable sense of realism. Often when writers write about real life, their stories are filled with prostitutes, drug addicts and/or the desperately down and out. Not so with Forever Home. The characters appear suburban and ordinary in a 21st century way, until Graham peels back the hidden layers of smouldering drama and angst that often exist under the guise of ordinariness.
The story line, with its underlying mystery, and the interplay between the various characters make it good holiday reading. Graham has paced the story well and his comedian’s sense of timing comes to the fore. Most readers should find this an entertaining read, never mind the deeper issues on display.
Some social issues/constructs to get a run in this story include same-sex marriage, which I initially felt was a little cliched, surrogacy, exploitation of the elderly by their children, the complexity of second relationships and the accompanying mixed families, and the tension between stepparents and children. These issues are aired more than explored.
One of Carol’s sisters has moved to Scotland and is clearly in a same-sex relationship, but the relationship is not acknowledged openly by Carol’s parents. However, I suspect this was added more to deepen the reader’s view of the relationship between Carol and her mother than to comment on inter-generational acceptance of same-sex relationships.
Graham subtly uses social standing and public image – how we feel we are perceived by the community around us – as a potential threat to Carol and her parents. It also plays a part in her relationship with Declan, an often-underrated source for dramatic tension.
I enjoyed this story, its twists and turns, its use of modern language , social values and constructs. At one stage the plot seemed obvious but like many obvious plots the only thing obvious is that the ending will be different to what you expect.
Reviewed by: Frank Thompson
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group
Review copy provided by the publisher