A Grandfather on his eightieth birthday and his grand-daughter a mere quarter of a century old are the figureheads for the talented Barney Norris’s latest book, Turning For Home but don’t be mislead this is far deeper than the conventional birthday gathering where memories are both revived and made.
Robert Shawcross is eighty and despite the loss of his wife the year before he is holding his annual birthday party, the one Hattie his wife instigated when he was forty, originally conceived as an opportunity for the scattered family to gather. The party itself has diminished over the last few years with the decline in the older family members but Hattie’s sister Laura has taken up the baton and is there preparing the food for the gathering.
Robert is moved to reflect on his life, a civil servant he spent much of his time in Belfast and was there at the time of the Enniskellen bombing on Remembrance Sunday in 1987. A bomb which killed many civilians, missing the British Troops it was planned to kill. The reflection of this time is prompted by the arrest of the Sinn Fein Leader in 2014, the news hitting the press just before Robert’s big party. The Boston Tapes were recordings of interviews carried out with Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries between 2001 and 2006 on the understanding that they would not be published until the interviewee was dead, what it seems no-one had appreciated was that these men could implicate those still living, leading to the arrest of Gerry Adams following a police probe.
So we have real life events based on the ‘Troubles’ with both the Enniskellen bombing and the Boston Tapes but Barney Norris chooses smaller more intimate stories against this gigantic backdrop. We have Robert’s story, the part he thinks he played in the negotiations towards peace along with recognition that he was one small cog in a whole bigger wheel, told alongside his Grand-daughter, Kate’s tale whose far shorter life hasn’t been without its own struggles. Her story is less clear to begin with but with incremental revelations we see a young woman who had much to live for until tragedy struck and her life derailed leading to a spell in hospital. Kate’s story is of loss and of her search for something that perhaps will never materialise. This is a story of families who never really know the truth about each other and individuals who struggle with the gaps between the truth and hope.
And I think perhaps it’s very human as well. Isn’t the life of any person made up of the telling of two tales, after all? People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them.
This is a deeply poignant book, as books about characters nearing the end of their life are bound to be in some respects but it also has a message of hope. That just because the space between reality and dreams is wider than we’d like shouldn’t stop us from trying. Kate’s story is painful to read at times but worth persevering with, seeming just as relevant to this reader as the wider canvas that is its backdrop.
Barney Norris gives us both stories, interspersed with extracts from the Boston tapes, with lyrical prose and real depth. The struggles the two character’s face being unique to them but the language used will strike a chord as it charts the rise and fall of human emotions that are common to all of our lives.
A fantastic tale of betrayal, of love and hope and all the great emotions we ride throughout our lifetimes bought down in scale reflected through two people’s eyes, hearts and minds.
I’d like to thank the publishers Transworld who allowed me to read a copy of Turning for Home before publication on 11 January 2018, a book I was keen to read having thoroughly enjoyed Barney Norris’s debut novel Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain as well as Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course the author, Barney Norris.
Don’t forget to catch the other stops on the Turning For Home Blog Tour which runs until 17 January 2018!