#SheReviews: Homecoming by Kate Morton

July 31, 2023

Ubiquitous, historical and contemporary secrets – existing in families, towns and indeed ‘civilised society’ – exist in permutations that are interwoven in the flimsy fabric of a plethora of lives. Consequentially, these secrets (so often sordid and horrific in nature) easily, in many cases, find a way of eking out under the closed door of cloistered rooms in which they’ve been locked; sometimes for decades.

Such heart-rending truths are seemingly effortlessly, yet so effectively, pointed out in powerhouse Australian writer, Kate Morton’s, latest evocative and beautifully constructed novel, Homecoming.

Set in two disparate, yet tellingly connected timelines and places in Australia, Homecoming has at it’s vibrantly beating heart a murder mystery, in 1959 in Tambilla (a fictional country town in the Adelaide Hills), and the family and townsfolk so affected and forever influenced by it’s occurrence.  

Mrs Isabel Turner (a delicately refined English lady) and her sun-drenched Australian children (Matilda, fifteen, John, thirteen, Evie, ten, and baby Thea) set out so happily (or do they?) from their property, Halcyon (just outside the town of Tambilla) on Christmas Eve in 1959 to partake of lunch by the creek in the unfettered grounds of their tranquil (or is it?) and heat encompassed property. Patriarch of the Turner family (the clan’s frequently absent husband and father), Thomas Turner, is away in England on business.

Unforseeably (or is it?) that afternoon, the existence of the formidable Turner dynasty is forever altered; a seismic shift in life’s orderings taking place.

For an unutterable and unbearable sight greets local town grocer, Percy Summers, when he comes upon the Turners lying down by the cooling stream of water. At first Percy perceives the Turner family to be asleep, however on closer examination he realises the four of them are dead (he doesn’t get to look in Thea’s crib).

Sergeant Peter Duke from Adelaide heads up the inevitable investigation, as Tambilla and all of Australia is found to be indisputably shocked, aghast and uncomprehending in the aftermath of Percy’s discovery.

Our corresponding, yet distant timeline, takes place in the days leading up to Christmas in 2018. Forty year old Australian journalist, Jess Turner-Bridges, receives a phone call in London (where she has been living some twenty years) to let her know that her beloved grandmother, Nora Turner-Bridges, has suffered a fall at Darling House (her grand home on the shores of Sydney Harbour) and is in hospital. Jess has been astoundingly close to Nora, whom she had lived with growing up. Jess’s fragile mother, Polly, had relocated to Brisbane from Sydney without Jess, when she was ten. Now the trajectories of Jess’s, Nora’s and Polly’s lives are about to maudlinly alter forever.

How is the Turner family tragedy of 1959 related to Jess? Will Nora ever regain consciousness and be able to readily give Jess the information she so desperately wants and undeniably needs about her family’s history? What clues are held about the past in the previously published book by the meticulous (or is he?) American writer, Daniel Miller?

What happened to Isabel and her four children? Was a killer roaming about in the Adelaide Hills, or is the answer closer to home? What happened to baby Thea, missing from her crib? Was she taken by wild dogs, or was it something else entirely?

Kate has written a novel of supreme intelligence, exquisiteness and foreboding. The pages were definitely being turned faster and faster by me, the further I progressed in the novel. At 628 pages, Homecoming is of considerable length, however the excellence of the written word on every page is unsurpassed and classy. 

I was drawn into, transfixed and transported by reading of the lives of the inhabitants of Tambilla so many years ago, as well as the inner musings of Jess, Nora and Polly, and their verbal interactions with others.

Themes of family dynamics, love (family, romantic and friendship) and grief are explored creatively and thoughtfully by Kate.

The sometimes intimidating Australian landscape (and even wildlife) are wonderfully described in Homecoming. As Percy reflects to himself at one stage, “It could do that to you, this country. The sounds, the colours, the stories of make and break – there was something brutally stark about it all. It could cause you to feel hollow and lonely, just by virtue of it’s vastness, it’s scale, the stretch of earth that went on forever”.

Homecoming is hands down the best book I’ve read by a contemporary writer. As a resident in the western suburbs of Brisbane, I have noted with interest that Kate lives with her family in the hip and eclectic inner Brisbane suburb of Paddington (Paddington is lovingly described in the novel, a place where Polly resides in a worker’s cottage).

Bravo Kate! So much dedication, emotion and foresight went into the forensically detailed nuances of writing in Homecoming. I loved this book, and can’t wait to read what Kate writes next.

You can purchase the book here!

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