Book Review: Home Stretch by Graham Norton.

Home Stretch: A Novel

Image of Home Stretch: A Novel

Author(s): Graham NortonRelease Date: June 22, 2021Publisher/Imprint: HarperViaPages: 368Buy on AmazonReviewed by: Claire Fullerton for The New York Journal of Books

Home Stretch by Graham Norton is a vibrantly written, delightful story with coming-of-age elements operating within a family saga’s network that begins in small-town Ireland, travels to New York, spans 32 years, and sweeps back to where it started.

It is 1987 Ireland, and Dan and Chrissie Hayes own a local pub in Mullinmore, not far from Cork City. As the tight-knit community prepares for the wedding of two young locals, 22-year-old Connor Hayes agrees to join the bride, groom, and three others on a trip to the beach the day before the wedding.

Tragedy strikes on Barry’s roundabout when the car flips on the way home and three of the six youths are killed. In a community whose citizens live like threads in a fabric, Mullinmore is blindsided, and when word spreads that Connor Hayes was driving, the stage is set for this intricately entwined story involving the ramifications of that fateful car crash.

Connor’s parents arrange for Connor to take a construction job in Liverpool, thinking the day will come when Connor’s presence doesn’t serve as constant reminder of the town’s tragedy, that one day it will be safe for Connor to come back, but Connor’s motivation is influenced by Ireland’s cultural mores and his return to Mullinmore is a decades-long journey.  

The fully realized characters in this cause-and-effect story are written sympathetically; the drama that unfolds is due to the times. Connor is a young man grappling with identity issues, and as he comes to terms with his sexuality, he fears bringing shame to his family and cuts all ties with his past, including communication with his parents and sister.

Leaving Liverpool for London without telling his family, Connor settles in and finds a new family. He thinks in hindsight, “If he hadn’t been forced to run away, who knows how long it would have taken to become this man?” His confidence builds, and he wonders, “Had this life that he was now living been available to him all along?”

Connor’s elder sister, Ellen, wants to distance herself from her family’s stigma, and doesn’t suspect the attentions of Martin Coulter are divisive. The son of the Mullinmore’ s doctor, Martin Coulter is connected to Connor as one of the survivors of the car crash, and when he marries Ellen Hayes, the marriage swiftly becomes unhappy. “The change was so abrupt, she doubted herself. The young bride wondered what she had done wrong. What had changed?” In time, Martin follows in his father’s professional footsteps and two children come along, but “Marriage, it seemed to Ellen, wasn’t about being happy or making someone happy. It turned out it was just a matter of deciding whose unhappiness was easiest to deal with. It was hers.”

In London, Connor crosses paths with an international businessman named Tim and moves with him to America. The years transpire, Connor is 44 in the year 2012, and a twist of fate comes in New York City when “Two Irish men walked into a bar.”

Finbarr Coulter is newly arrived in New York from Ireland. Twenty-two, he lands a bartending job and on his first week of employment, when Connor walks in to drown the sorrows of his 16-year relationship ending, it comes to uncanny light after a few too many that the two are related. Connor wonders, “What version of the story did Finbarr know? He knew he was afraid—but of what precisely? He felt he could bear hearing about the town still blaming him for what had happened,” but “what terrified him was the idea of discovering that everyone had simply forgotten him and gone on with their lives.”

A trajectory begins that leads Connor home to Ireland, and wheels are set in motion to repair the past. The Irish culture has changed, and with it the minds of Mullimore’s locals, and the truth behind the car crash 32 years before brings all characters in the story to alignment.

Author Graham Norton is a masterful storyteller. The layered crafting of Home Stretch is rife with pithy innuendo and story-driving personality. His sharp eye captures the nuance of small-town Ireland in the process of evolution as he unfurls this interconnected story with spellbinding verve and finesse.

    

Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.

Graham Norton – Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Norton

Graham William Walker (born 4 April 1963), better known by his stage name Graham Norton, is an Irish actor, author, comedian, commentator, and presenter. Well known for his work in the UK, he is a five-time BAFTA TV Award winner for his comedy chat show The Graham Norton Show (2007-present) and an eight-time award winner overall. Originally shown on BBC Two before moving to other slots on BBC One, his chat show succeeded Friday Night with Jonathan Ross in BBC One’s prestigious late-Friday-evening slot in 2010. From 2010 to 2020 Norton presented the Saturday morning slot on BBC Radio 2 and since 2021 has presented on Saturdays and Sundays on Virgin Radio UK. Since 2009, he has been the BBC’s television commentator for the Eurovision Song Contest, which led Hot Press to describe him as “the 21st century’s answer to Terry Wogan”. He has been noted for his innuendo-laden dialogue and flamboyant presentation style. In 2012 he sold his production company So Television to IT

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

March 14, Irish Parade on Facebook!

An unprecedented, live event will take place on Sunday, March 14 from 8:00 AM Eastern Standard Time on Facebook. 8 Book Pages will coordinate to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and the idea is for attendees to join the group pages ahead of time then hop from page to page as events happen! You can see the Book Pages here, at the right of the image below.

I will have the great pleasure of being “in conversation” with my favorite author, Billy O’Callaghan, who hails from Douglas, County Cork, Ireland, and who is the author of 4 short story collections and 3 novels, his latest being the newly released, Life Sentences, which I loved!

The Irish Echo released the article below yesterday. Below the image is the actual link!

FB book clubs combine for virtual event | Arts & Leisure | Irish Echo

Here are some of the panelists who will appear during the all-day event. Come by and meet those of us with Irish connections!

There will be giveaways and a live Irish band playing on all book pages simultaneously!

I hope to see you there!

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

An Irish Story

Every March, I look forward to St. Patrick’s Day because it triggers the memory of when I lived on the west coast of Ireland. As an American with 48% Irish DNA, I felt right at home in Inverin, which is a small village in Connemara, 2.7. miles up the road from the village of Spiddal, the next significant town being Clifden, fifty miles or so up the same road.

I lived in Ireland for more than a year and loved every minute of it.. Connemara is a land separated into geometric prisms by grey-stone walls leading down to the rock encrusted shores of the Atlantic on one side of the coast road and bog-land that stretches out forever on the other. Alongside the novelty of discovering Ireland was a curious sense of familiarity that gave way to a sense of belonging. Between the time I arrived in Ireland and the time I left, I managed to ingratiate myself into the rhythm of a land that has more soul and character than any place I’d ever imagined.

In an Inverin field.

Inverin really isn’t much more than a stretch of the coast road at the gateway to the Gaeltacht, which is an area on the west coast of Ireland where Irish is spoken as a first language. Inverin is moody, pastoral, a bit desolate, and those that reside there have deep generational ties. Inverin is 13 miles up the coast road from Galway City. Here are some photographs to give you an idea of Inverin’s atmosphere:

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Image result for inverin ireland
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Image result for inverin ireland

I lived within a short walk of this graveyard. It’s down a gravel road not far from The Centra, which, for all intent and purposes, is the lone gas station/grocery store in Inverin. I have a thing about graveyards that’s hard to explain. They speak to me of the significance of human existence–of love and life and history, with indelible, reverential resonance indicative of a region’s culture. Ireland takes its cemeteries seriously, and walking through an Irish graveyard has always given me an anchored sense of place. They are lonely, haunting, and beautiful, and what I love about the graveyard pictured above is that the headstones all face the sea.

Inverin was my home base, and during the week, I took the bus from Inverin into Galway, where I worked on New Road at the Galway Music Centre. Galway is a college town, which makes it feel youthful and vibrant. Here are some photographs that illustrate my point:

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Shop Street.
Taaffes is a 150-year-old pub in a 400-year-old building on Galway’s Shop Street.
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St. Nicholas Cathedral, Galway.

The Claddagh, Galway, a port for anglers on Galway Bay.

As a writer by nature, I walk through life with a running commentary in my head, and keep a journal. I took the experience of living in Ireland and used it as a basis to write a novel about a single American female who leaves the record business in Los Angeles and relocates to rural Ireland, where she meets an Irish traditional musician who won’t come closer nor completely go away. The novel is titled “Dancing to an Irish Reel.” I went out of my way not to patronize anything about Ireland, particularly its people. I wanted to refrain from bringing an American frame of reference to the book because I felt it had been done before and somehow cheated what I wanted to be the point of the story, which concerns the ambiguity of a budding love relationship, with its attendant excitement, hope and doubt. On the one hand, this story could have happened anywhere (I know of very few people who haven’t been thrown into confusion as they navigate the minefield of new found attraction) but because this story takes place in Ireland, I had the opportunity to highlight a setting in possession of unfathomable beauty, with a history of cultural nuances worth the singing of deep praise. In writing “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” I did what all novelists do: tell about how they find the world through the vehicle of one painstakingly crafted case in point story.

In anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, there is a Goodreads Giveaway running until March 20 of Dancing to an Irish Reel.

The Goodreads Give Away Link for Dancing to an Irish Reel is here: https://bit.ly/38aOEDm

There’s another link to the giveaway as well as my social media platforms, and I’d love to align with you there!

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

And this will be fun, as well as unprecedented! On Sunday, March 14, I’ll have the immense pleasure of being a part of a Facebook, multiple book page St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I’ll be in conversation with Irish author, Billy O’Callaghan, at noon, Eastern Standard Time on the Facebook page, The Write Review. We plan to talk about Irish culture, the influence of Ireland on our writing, and whatever else comes to mind. I hope to see you there! You can find all the book pages involved in this celebration on the graphic below, so if you’re on Facebook, simply go to the book pages to join in the fun!

Life Sentences by Billy O’Callaghan


“Written with harrowing intimacy in cadence and phrasing so poetically elegant as to be breathtaking, it sings of perseverance in the face of adversity . . .”

A thoroughly realized treatise on the familial ramifications that haunt us, the beauty in Life Sentences comes from Billy O’Callaghan’s deep-probing gift for nuance. Wielding confessional monologues, O’Callaghan unfurls an epic story woven in three compelling parts that could justifiably stand-alone, yet from the sturdy threads of O’Callaghan’s deft crafting, the reader is invested from the start in this multi-generational story.

Read my full review in the New York Journal of Books: https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book…(less)
“Billy O’Callaghan’s work is at once subtle and direct, warm and clear-eyed, and never less than beautifully written. He has a moving ability to express the hopes and fears of ‘ordinary’ people, and he knows intimately the ways of the world. He richly reserves an international reputation. This writer is the real thing.”
~ John Banville, Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea
“I know of no writer on either side of the Atlantic who is better at exploring the human spirit under assault than Billy O’Callaghan. The stories in The Things We Lose, the Things We Leave Behind are at once harrowing and uplifting, achingly sad and surpassingly beautiful. O’Callaghan is a treasure of the English language.”
~ Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

Billy O’Callaghan was born in Cork in 1974, and is the author of four short story collections: In Exile (2008, Mercier Press), In Too Deep (2009, Mercier Press), The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind (2013, New Island Books, winner of a 2013 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award and selected as Cork’s One City, One Book for 2017), and The Boatman (2020, Jonathan Cape and Harper (U.S.A.)), as well as the novels The Dead House (2017, Brandon/O’Brien Press and 2018, Arcade/Skyhorse (USA)) and My Coney Island Baby, (2019, Jonathan Cape and Harper (U.S.A.)).

His latest novel, Life Sentences, was published by Jonathan Cape in January 2021 to much acclaim. Read more about it on the Books page.

Billy is the winner of a Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award for the short story, and twice a recipient of the Arts Council of Ireland’s Bursary Award for Literature. Among numerous other honours, his story, The Boatman, was a finalist for the 2016 Costa Short Story Award, and more than a hundred of his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in literary journals and magazines around the world, including: Absinthe: New European Writing, Agni, the Bellevue Literary Review, the Chattahoochee Review, Confrontation, the Fiddlehead, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Kenyon Review, the Kyoto Journal, the London Magazine, the Los Angeles Review, Narrative, Ploughshares, Salamander, and the Saturday Evening Post.

More from the author:

Billy O’Callaghan’s Website: The Author – Billy O’Callaghan