Turning for Home by Barney Norris

1. First lines. 2. Book cover Penguin 3. Summer Garden Party. Image by K. H. J. / MCI from Pixabay

Publisher: Penguin 2018 Genre: Contemporary fiction. Setting: Hampshire England. Formats: Hardback. Paperback. ebook. Audiobook.


Robert is having a party to celebrate his 80th birthday. He was formerly a British civil servant who helped bring reconciliation between the IRA and the British government. As well as other members of the family, his granddaughter 25-year-old Kate, recovering from a serious illness, is attending the party. On the day of the party, Robert gets a phone call from a former acquaintance asking to see him immediately. He is worried that the Boston Tapes will be made public, and he wants reassurance that no legal action will be taken. (The Boston Tapes are recordings made of the involvement of both loyalists and republicans in the Troubles.)


” Children always grow apart from their parents just as the branches of any tree strain away from the roots and up to the light.”

“In Ireland, starving was always about honour. The old way among the peasants of that country, as I understand it, was that if someone had wronged you, you sat down at their doorway and went on a hunger strike. And if you died there at the person’s door, they were forever dishonoured, and reparations would have to be paid to the family of the deceased. To get the hunger striker up from where they sat, amends had to be made for whatever wrong you’d done them, and then they’d eat again. that was the history the IRA were drawing on every time they used the hunger strike as a weapon.”

Book reviews:
  • Financial Times: “Turning for Home, the impressive second novel from Barney Norris, award-winning author of Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, switches skilfully between the narratives of Robert and Kate — no mean feat in two such wildly different characters, and one that Norris exhibited to acclaim in his debut.”
  • Irish Times: “A sensitive portrait of fragmented lives after the Troubles.”
  • Irish Times: “It’s (Turning for Home) not flawless. One probably shouldn’t criticise a novel for being too bleak – to do so would be to discount the entirety of Scandinavian fiction and invite Karl Ove Knausgård to accept a job as a barman on the Oslo-Copenhagen ferry – but the levels of cheerlessness here can be overwhelming, and one longs for a character to lighten the mood. Ironically, it’s the villain of the piece, Kate’s mother, who fulfils that role, flouncing into the party, refusing to engage with her daughter’s pain and making the most inappropriate remarks.”
My thoughts:

Highly recommended. The story of two very different situations – one, an 80-year-old man who had been involved in “The Troubles” in Ireland, and the illness of his 25-year-old granddaughter – have been blended expertly by this author.

Historical note:

“The Boston tapes are secret recordings in which ex-paramilitaries talk about their role during the decades of violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. The tapes contain interviews with both republican and loyalist paramilitaries during which some admit involvement in various attacks, including murders. The recordings were made on behalf of the US university, Boston College, as part of an academic project to create an “oral history” of the Troubles. But the project was highly controversial and police in Northern Ireland later gained access to the tapes for use as evidence in ongoing murder inquiries.” Read more: BBC News

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