book review: Holding by Graham Norton

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HOLDING by Graham Norton
★★
Atria Books, August 1, 2017

Most reviews I’ve seen of Holding, both positive and negative, seem to be written by readers who only picked it up because of the name Graham Norton. I was the opposite – I read the summary and thought ‘that sounds exactly like a book I would like,’ but my cursor hesitated over the request button because of the author. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Graham Norton is a great television presenter. I just wasn’t confident in his novel writing skills. But I was too tempted by the premise to not at least give it a shot.

It was… okay. Holding is a sort of cozy mystery meets romantic comedy (if I’d realized how heavily romance factored into the plot, I would have stayed away), set in a modern day small Irish town, which follows sergeant P.J. Collins as he attempts to solve a decades old murder. The plot is rather flimsy, and takes an unnecessarily long time to gather steam. Characters are well developed, ordinary people with Dark Secrets, but there’s a certain intrigue missing. And it doesn’t help that most of the Big Reveals are from people just… deciding to tell P.J. things at opportune moments.

The prose was technically decent, but it really failed to hold my attention. This book probably took me twice as long to read as it should have – I lost track of the number of times I realized my mind had been wandering, and I had to go back several pages because I hadn’t been paying attention. Part of the reason for this was the rather poorly executed third person omniscient point of view – the “head hopping” got really out of hand at times and made it difficult to follow.

I think this book is in some ways a direct homage to The Casual Vacancy – a slow moving mystery set in a remote town with a large host of unlikable characters, it’s hard not to draw comparisons – but for me, it fell totally flat. I was actually one of the few who quite liked The Casual Vacancy (‘liked,’ not ‘loved’), but Holding didn’t manage to improve upon any of The Casual Vacancy‘s flaws. Where Rowling’s plotting was intricate as ever, and her first adult novel managed to pack quite a punch by the end, Holding was only ever a tepid, flavorless imitation.

Norton’s certainly a better writer than I had expected; his wit and humor are as omnipresent as you would expect, and I like some of his ideas – I would be willing to read another novel from him in the future. But Holding just wasn’t executed as well as I’d have liked. It was almost there, but not quite.

Also, warning: there’s a fairly graphic rape scene about halfway through. Proceed with caution.

Thank you Netgalley, Atria Books, and Graham Norton for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

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