Last year I read a beautiful, thought provoking book called The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott. Set in the period of and immediately after the First World War it was one of those books that stayed with me. It took me to places I hadn’t been and gave me knowledge and perspective I didn’t expect. So when Anne Cater invited me on to the blog tour for Caroline’s latest book When I Come Home Again I jumped at the chance.
In her second novel Caroline returns to the First World War. We begin in the final week of the war, when a soldier is arrested in Durham Cathedral. Scared, confused and totally alone, ‘Adam’ as he is named, has no memory of who he is or where he has been.
He is released to the care of James Haworth and his superior Dr Alan Shepherd, both specialists in treating men traumatised by war. Adam is taken to Fellside House in the heart of the Lake District where his therapy begins. Over the course of years there seems to be little progress. Adam shows an innate empathy for nature and skill for tending the overgrown gardens, as well as a talent for drawing but he is unable or unwilling to open the locked box of his past.
When, two years after the war, an article about Adam runs in the national press, three women come forward to claim him as their own. Celia is a mother, stuck in time, still believing that Robert her son will come home. Anna has been running the farm single handedly since her husband Mark left abruptly for war. Lucy is struggling under the weight of raising her brother’s children after he failed to return from the front.
Each women has a credible case, each women is convinced that Adam belongs in their lives. But Adam is unable to wholly connect with anyone. The only tangible clue to his past is the face of a women he draws over and over again, a woman he claims has revisited him in the woods that surround Fellside House.
The effects of war are beautifully and painfully presented here not only in the character of Adam and the other men who are treated at Fellside. Beyond just these collection of men Scott has created a cast of characters that are all touched, even years on, by the four years of fighting and absence. Each of the women who come forward to claim Adam have a story to tell; a story of loss, of struggle and of learning to cope in a world that will never be the same again.
Effects of the war radiate through and permeate each character and each strand of this beautifully woven story. James might be striving to fix the men in his care but he too has been left broken by the horrors of war. Haunted by his experiences in France and visions of the death of his brother- in- law, Nathaniel, James is slowly unravelling. His night terrors and daytime drinking are pushing his wife Caitlin further and further away. He is trapped in his memories as much as Adam is trapped by his inability to remember.
This novel is a sensitively and beautifully crafted tribute to those who survived. It examines in detail, through individual stories, the aftermath of war, the changes that it wrought on society, both on a national and individual level and acknowledges that loss, grief and death did not end on the final day of the war. This is a story of afterwards. Told without sentimentality but with swathes of empathy and realism, these characters tell their own tales of trying to move forward in a time when every has changes beyond recognition.
When I come home again is a portrait of memory. Of how each of us remember in different ways, how each of us construct and hold those memories close to help us cope with events and the world around us. This novel also asks the question of what happens when memories fail us. Not just by refusing to unlock their secrets, but also by distorting and dominating our present. Each character in this book is held in time by the past, one way or another.
This November, over 100 years since the end of The Great War, I heartily recommend you take some time to read this novel and consider the legacy of the war. I guarantee that this story will hold you still and will linger long. And that is just as it should be.
And there is more…
For more reactions and reviews, check out the rest of the blog tour, listed below…