Not a genre novel but an interesting story

Loveland - Graham Norton

Thanks to Net Galley and to Hodder & Stoughton for offering me a free copy of this novel.

I have several confessions to make. Yes, I know who Graham Norton is, although I don’t watch his television programme often, and I don’t follow Eurovision (even when Sir Terry Wogan hosted the UK version of Eurovision, and I was a big fan of his, I didn’t watch it), although I sometimes catch bits of his radio programme on Radio 2. So, although I suppose I had expectations, they can’t compare to other people’s.

I haven’t read any of his autobiographical books, so I didn’t have anything to compare this novel to, other than the many books I read by other authors.

I must also confess that I had a look at other reviews before writing mine and I will mention them, although not in detail.

This novel is in many ways the Irish equivalent (if there is such a thing) of the small town thrillers that are very common in the US. We have mysteries, we have a dark underbelly (well, not quite so dark), we have secrets, and we have many people whose lives are not as they appear to be. The book is listed under General Fiction and Mystery (Crime, Thriller) but I’m not sure how well it fits in the second one, at least stylistically, not so much from the story point of view.

The story is told in the third person but from the point of view of quite a few of the characters in the novel. If one had to choose a protagonist, perhaps it would be P.J. Collins the large Sergeant who lives alone and always expects people to laugh at him because of his weight. When bones are unearthed at a local building site, suddenly some excitement comes into his life. Because the owner of the farm where the bones are found left to never return many years back, the suspicion is he might be the one buried there, and suddenly two women who had fought over him start thinking about him again. Of course, due to the nature of the crime, police officers from Cork come to take charge and there is general disruption. And of course, things get complicated.

I didn’t find it difficult to follow the different points of view as they tend to be clearly demarcated and the characters are very different, although I thought that in the last chapter before the epilogue the switches were a bit fast and not so well demarcated, and some people might not enjoy the head-hopping.

I’ve noticed that several of the reviews commented that the portrayal of small town Ireland seemed timeless, and it is true that other than mentions of DNA tests, mobile phones and i-Pads, there isn’t much that could not have fitted in any other era (although we assume it’s contemporary). Memories of the past by several of the characters appear more vivid at times than the present era and ring truer.

Although the characters do not appear to be very sophisticated or complex, there is enough background history to create a picture in the minds of the reader, although some might result very familiar to habitual readers (adulterous husband, unhappy married woman who drinks too much, three unmarried sisters still living together, the town’s busybody…). My main problem with the characters was that I never felt I truly connected with any of them and I’m not sure if that is perhaps because all of them seem to be observing themselves rather than living or feeling. They are all lonely, even the ones who are in relationships, and seem frozen (as the writer notes in his comments), unable to move on because of some loss long ago (be it real or imagined). It brought to my mind Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, not because of the style or setting, but because of the feeling of the characters (although far less dark).

I read in some of the comments that there was humour. Perhaps it was my frame of mind when I read it (although I don’t think it was particularly dark) and some of the characterizations and the events could be funny in their own right, but combined with the characters and their circumstances I would not recommend it as a funny story.

There writing is fairly descriptive and the pace leisurely rather than the frantic pace of thrillers, and for me, there was more showing than telling at some points of the story that also gave it a more contemplative style than is usual in modern mysteries.

The plot was well built and the story and the details are interesting (with some minor surprises although the general gist is not that difficult to guess). It also ends on a more positive note than the rest of the novel anticipates but I won’t comment on it not to spoil the story.

Overall it is an interesting novel, easy to read although it perhaps doesn’t sit easy either as a thriller or a cozy mystery (none of the characters is weird or peculiar enough and the mystery itself is more realistic than in these kinds of stories) and that makes it a bit more challenging to recommend to genre readers.