Here he skilfully keeps a lid on a pressure-cooker plot to create a compelling, big-hearted, emotionally precise page-turner. The first of his novels to explore gay themes, the book navigates Ireland’s progression from petrified bigotry to liberal tolerance.
Connor is starting to realise that he is gay, and a chance encounter in Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral changes his life. Just as he seems to have hit rock bottom, he goes to London and finds his “tribe” in the gay community. It is not a happy ending, however; Connor’s life has been warped by prejudice and small-town snobbery. It is only years later, when he is living in New York, that another chance encounter finally sends him home to face the whole, heart-rending truth.
It is excellent that Norton decided to write such an unabashedly queer novel. I’m not saying he goes full Dennis Cooper – Home Stretch is very much a popular fiction version of a queer novel – but I am filled with a certain giddiness knowing that a novel with repeated references to twinks and Fire Island is now being thrust into the hands of tens of thousands of Irish mothers. Echoes of Tóibín’s The Blackwater Lightship reverberate throughout, perhaps a bit too loudly at times, but that can be forgiven given the bedrock-like position of Tóibín’s novel within the queer Irish canon.
Small Irish towns and the individual struggles within them are Graham Norton’s speciality. You could call it S.I.T. Lit. When sleepy Mullinmore is torn apart by a tragic accident, Connor is implicated and has to leave.
Beautifully written, warm-hearted, moving and pacy, this family saga is Norton’s most ambitious and best yet.