‘Shame and longing can flow through generations,
but the secrets of the heart will not be buried for ever’
– Home Stretch
[ About the Book ]
It is 1987 and a small Irish community is preparing for a wedding. The day before the ceremony a group of young friends, including bride and groom, drive out to the beach. There is an accident. Three survive, but three are killed.
The lives of the families are shattered and the rifts between them are felt throughout the small town. Connor is one of the survivors. But staying among the angry and the mourning is almost as hard as living with the shame of having been the driver. He leaves the only place he knows for another life, taking his secrets with him. Travelling first to Liverpool, then London, he makes a home – of sorts – for himself in New York. The city provides shelter and possibility for the displaced, somewhere Connor can forget his past and forge a new life.
But the secrets, the unspoken longings and regrets that have come to haunt those left behind will not be silenced. And before long, Connor will have to confront his past.
[ My Review ]
Home Stretch by Graham Norton was just published October 1st with Coronet Books (Imprint of Hodder & Stoughton) and is described as a ‘powerful and timely novel of emigration and return…demonstrates his keen understanding of the power of stigma and secrecy – with devastating results.‘ I have to be honest and say that I was not a huge fan of A Keeper, Graham Norton’s previous book, so I was very hesitant starting Home Stretch.
Home Stretch feels very personal for Graham Norton, telling the story of a young man who has to leave his home in West Cork in order to escape the trauma of his life there. It is general knowledge that Graham Norton spent many of his younger years in West Cork but after an unfulfilling stint in college, he literally jumped ship and headed for the lights of London. Graham has since returned to West Cork on many occasions, having a retreat near Bantry, where he goes for some well-deserved time-out from the chaos of his life. In his acknowledgements he especially thanks all the people who remained, those who never left, fighting for acceptance and tolerance.
“I would like to thank all the people who stayed in Ireland to fight for the modern, tolerant country it has become. I took the easy way out and left to find places where I could be myself. The dedicated, passionate, tireless campaigners who remained, mean that I am proud and privileged to return. Your extraordinary achievements make writing a novel seem a very small task indeed.”
Home Stretch explores the life of a young man, Connor Hayes, as we travel with him from the small village of Mullinmore to Liverpool, London and New York. When Connor finished school, he was very unsure of what to do with himself. His sister has plans for college in Cork and is now on a year out happy with her life. The family own the local pub and Connor fills his days helping his parents run the bar and keeping things ticking over. Connor’s life changes the day he joins a group on an unexpected trip to the local beach. Coonor is surprised to be invited as the group are all older than him, including a couple who are about to get married the following day. But on the return home, the car overturns in a accident that kills three, leaving three alive, including Connor. The shame of that day hangs over Connor daily. The devastation in the community is immense, leaving families destroyed forever. Connor makes a decision to leave and with a job lined up on a site in Liverpool, he embarks on a new life.
Turning his back on all he has known in Mullinmore causes Connor much pain but to stay was worse. The disappointment and disgust in people’s eyes was just too much. We walk beside Connor on this journey, as he faces challenges and difficulties, prejudice and abuse. Connor looks deep inside himself and has come to terms with his sexuality and the relief he feels in finally acknowledging who he really is. Although he feels relief, this also comes overshadowed by the secret he carries from home, a secret that leads him down some dark paths as the years roll by.
Ireland is a very difficult place to leave behind and the call of home forever lingers in Connor’s mind. To go home would open up old wounds but Ireland now versus the one he left are two very different places and Connor must decide what is best for himself and those he left behind.
Home Stretch is a fully absorbing and thought-provoking read as it explores small town life in Ireland in the 1980s and the later more accepting mindset of recent times. I am from Cork and am very familiar with the locations and settings of this book which made it all very easy to visualise. I am also very aware of the incredible changes that have taken place in society since my own days as a teenager in the 1980s. While the trauma in Connor’s life is pure fiction, his story as a young gay man leaving his home due to the perceived embarrassment for his family is unfortunately all too real. Graham Norton knows life in Cork. He is very familiar with the dialect, the mannerisms and so much more and this really spills through in his writing. The tragedy of Home Stretch was monumental for a small close-knit community and the impact on it’s population was one of trauma and disbelief. Connor’s story is very sensitively handled and beautifully perceived by Graham Norton. leading me at one point to stop, look out the window and just let the tears flow. For some reason I got very emotional at one particular scene, rendering me totally, and unexpectedly, speechless.
Home Stretch is an easy page-turner. It rolls along at a gentle pace revealing little snippets of the past while exploring Connor’s journey into the greater world. I’m delighted that Graham Norton didn’t paint a rose-tinted version of Connor’s years away. Life was hard for Connor , lending a realistic edge to the tale. It does all wrap up in quite a predictable, fairy-tale manner but this was perfectly fine for me as it was a book that gave me all the feels. I needed a warm hug and Home Stretch gave me just that.
Home Stretch is a character-driven, sentimental read about self-discovery and self-acceptance. A charming, warm-hearted and ultimately, uplifting tale, the perfect read for anytime and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
Engaging. Emotive. Entertaining.
[ Bio ]
Graham Norton is one of the UK’s most treasured comedians and presenters. Born in Clondalkin, a suburb of Dublin, Norton’s first big TV appearance was as Father Noel Furlong on Channel 4’s Father Ted in the early 1990s.
He then secured a prime time slot on Channel 4 with his chat shows So Graham Norton and V Graham Norton. Known for his quick wit Graham began hosting a variety of talent shows on BBC One from Strictly Dance Fever and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? to The Eurovision Song Contest and BAFTAs. Graham was soon approached by the BBC to front his own self-titled chat show The Graham Norton Show in 2007. Graham Norton has won 9 BAFTAs for Best Entertainment Performance, and Best Entertainment Programme.
Previous novels, Holding and A Keeper, became instant bestsellers both in the UK and Ireland. Both novels have earned Norton dazzling review coverage across all media and the literary community.
Home Stretch is Graham Norton’s third novel.