A Keeper, by Graham Norton.
Elizabeth Keane, divorced, fortyish and pretty much dissatisfied with her current life, returns from New York to the little Irish village of Buncarragh. Her mother has died and Elizabeth is there to settle her mother’s estate and decide what to do with the property; she is an only child and everything should be fairly straightforward – except for her mother’s brother and his family. There was talk for years that Elizabeth’s uncle should have also inherited the house (as well as the family business) so Elizabeth is not looking forward to being ‘welcomed’ into the bosom of the family again; after all, family friction was one of the reasons she left home in the first place, as well as her mother’s awful neediness.
And the rumours. The rumours that Elizabeth’s mother Patricia, a spinster who’d missed the boat with a husband on it because she had to look after her ailing mum, all of a sudden disappeared for months after her mother died, then came back with a baby and the announcement that she had married a lovely man who lived near Cork, but sadly he died, so it would be just Patricia and baby Elizabeth now. Well. Who would believe all that balderdash? No, that uppity Patricia had got herself in the family way and come back with a baby and no husband: Elizabeth was regarded as the village bastard and had to wear the shame of it until she was able to escape to university. Well, she hasn’t made the ideal life for herself in New York – far from it, but it beats Buncarragh by a mile: as soon as she has sold mum’s house she’ll leave, never to return.
And there things would have remained until Elizabeth finds a collection of letters in her mother’s wardrobe, a trove of historical information so intriguing that Elizabeth decides to play detective and travel to its source, for it is obvious that these letters are from the father she never knew, the father who had died. Well, his letters were so lovely that Elizabeth’s sore heart quickens: if she searches out his home, could there not be other members of the family still surviving? Could she have a history after all?
Mr Norton tells his protagonists’ story in flashbacks: Patricia is Then and Elizabeth is Now, and both women tread a rough road; in fact it is hard to know who suffers more: Patricia for all the sacrifices she made and the lies she was forced to tell, or Elizabeth, innocent recipient of a family history she never dreamt of. Mr Norton’s prose gets a bit purple at times but he can still weave a tale that nails us to the spot. FOUR STARS.