Uncovering family secrets in seaside Ireland

Elizabeth Keane has been living in New York City for the past 20 years. Six months after her mother’s death, she is back in her Irish hometown of Buncarragh for perhaps the final time, tying up the final threads of her late mother’s estate. She’s already exhausted just thinking of all she has to do when she is distracted by discovering a trove of letters hidden away in her mother’s closet. The letters are from Edward Foley, the father Elizabeth never knew. On impulse, Elizabeth decides to travel to the West Cork address Foley wrote on his letters and try to learn more about the time of her life that her mother Patricia refused to talk about. From there, the narrative alternates between the present and the past, as we slowly learn the story of Patricia and Edward’s courtship and how everything goes pear-shaped.

For all that it starts as a conventional family saga, A Keeper (2018) by Graham Norton takes a turn toward what I can only term Irish Gothic in its recounting of what really happened 40 years ago that ended with Patricia raising Elizabeth as a single parent. There are so many parallels among the generational stories: Patricia raising Elizabeth as a single mother; Elizabeth marrying and divorcing, leaving her to raise her own son, Zach, in a single-parent home; Zach’s own complicated romantic entanglements. Norton deftly juggles all three storylines without losing sight of the narrative’s focus. The answers may lie in the past with Patricia and Edward, but it is Elizabeth’s present and to a lesser extent Zach’s future that form the heart of the novel.

Norton is a skillful storyteller. I was immediately engrossed in Elizabeth’s life and shared her curiosity about what her mother had been hiding all those years. And I felt equally sympathetic and interested in Patricia’s story, such that the impatience I often feel when a novel switches from one timeline to another never materialized. The ending, while just a bit on the nose in its dénouement, was nonetheless satisfying. A keeper, indeed.

Published by Julia

I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and I haven't stopped yet.

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