Tuesday 9 January 2018

Turning For Home by Barney Norris @barnontherun @TransworldBooks @sophiechristoph #TurningForHome @DoubledayUK

'Isn’t the life of any person made up out 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. The whole world makes more sense if you remember that everyone has two lives, their real lives and their dreams, both stories only a tape’s breadth apart from each other, impossibly divided, indivisibly close.'

Every year, Robert's family come together at a rambling old house to celebrate his birthday. Aunts, uncles, distant cousins - it has been a milestone in their lives for decades. But this year Robert doesn't want to be reminded of what has happened since they last met - and neither, for quite different reasons, does his granddaughter Kate. Neither of them is sure they can face the party. But for both Robert and Kate, it may become the most important gathering of all.

As lyrical and true to life as Norris's critically acclaimed debut Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, which won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and Debut of the Year at the British Book Awards, this is a compelling, emotional story of family, human frailty, and the marks that love leaves on us.

Turning For Home by Barney Norris is published on 11 January 2017 in hardback by Doubleday / Transworld and is the author's second novel. His first, Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain was published in April 2016. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy of Turning For Home for review.

Sometimes I really struggle to write a review of a book, and this is one of those struggles. How can I, a mere reader and blogger even begin to put into words just how beautiful, moving and really quite wonderful this story is?

I'll try, but to be honest, I'd like to say just go out and buy it, read it, savour it and then you'll realise my difficulties. This is a book that touched me, that send spears of emotion through my heart, and made me feel so grateful to be a reader. Having the opportunity to read books like these is one of the greatest gifts, and pleasures. It's truly wonderful.

Barney Norris weaves a special kind of magic with his words. Not one single phrase or sentence is superfluous, each one is expertly placed.

The story is narrated by Robert and his granddaughter Kate. Decades apart in age, connected by family, but disconnected recently by events that have rocked them. It's Robert's 80th birthday party; traditionally, over the years, this has been a major family event. Attended by family members and friends; those who are close, those who have been distant, but always those who respect Robert.

Kate is attending the party for the first time in three years. She's been distanced from her family, hospitalised, struggling with illness and with grief, she was affected by a tragic accident that turned her life upside down. Today will be the first birthday party without her grandmother, and the first time she's seen her own mother for years.

Interwoven through the narration are both Robert's and Kate's back stories. The reader learns about Robert's career as a Government officer and how the work he carried out has been brought into the present day after the revelations made by those who fought on both sides during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It doesn't become clear until much later on in the story just how involved Robert was, and just how close he came to becoming a target during those years.

For me, Kate's story was the most powerful and Barney Norris' explains her illness in such vivid detail. His understanding and perception of something that is all too often dismissed as faddy and 'all in the mind' is startling and full of empathy.

Turning For Home explores how families lose their connections, and the long and often difficult process of bring them back together. This author is incredibly talented and his story is an extraordinary portrait of a family, it is complex, yet compelling and is breathtakingly accomplished.

Highly recommended.

Barney Norris was born in Chichester in 1987 and grew up in Sussex, London and Salisbury. 

A graduate of the universities of Oxford and Royal Holloway, his plays are AT FIRST SIGHT (presented on tour and at Latitude Festival, 2011) and MISSING (Tristan Bates Theatre 2012), and his poetry, stories and other writings have been published in various little magazines. 

He is the co-artistic director of the theatre company Up In Arms (www.upinarms.org.uk), works as Max Stafford-Clark's assistant at Out of Joint, and has previously worked and trained under Bernard O'Donoghue, Andrew Motion, Jo Shapcott, Thelma Holt, Peter Gill and David Hare, and at Salisbury Playhouse, Oxford Playhouse, the Royal Court and the Bush.

Follow him on Twitter @barnontherun

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review Anne! I know exactly what you mean about it being a hard book to review, I'm really struggling to find the words to do it justice.