‘People who grow up in old houses come to understand that buildings have characters. That they have memories and secrets to tell. One must merely learn to listen, and then to comprehend, as with any language.’
The Christmas Eve of 1959 is a hot summer’s day in South Australia. Isabel Turner takes her four children out into the grounds of their Adelaide Hills home for a picnic – and this is where they are found later that day by a man delivering groceries. At first he thinks they are asleep in the sun but, sensing an unnatural stillness, he comes closer and makes the shocking discovery that the Turners are all dead. The local police are convinced that Isabel, who is believed to have been depressed, must have poisoned herself and the children, but the case is never fully solved and becomes the subject of a true crime book, As If They Were Asleep, written by American journalist Daniel Miller.
Almost sixty years later, in 2018, Jess Turner-Bridges is living in London when she receives a call from a hospital in Sydney informing her that her beloved grandmother, Nora, has had a fall and is in a serious condition. Jess hasn’t been back to Australia for years, but her grandmother is the person who raised her when her own mother was unable to, so she leaves for Sydney immediately to be by Nora’s side. Alone in Nora’s house, Jess discovers Daniel Miller’s book in her grandmother’s bedroom and is drawn into the story of the Turner Family Tragedy. Having been unaware until now of her own connection with this tragic incident, Jess is shocked by what she reads, but now that Nora is dying it seems that her chance to find out the truth could be slipping away.
Homecoming, like the other books I’ve read by Australian author Kate Morton, is deeply layered, containing stories within stories, multiple viewpoints and alternating timelines. It’s a long novel and I felt there were things that could probably have been left out without affecting the story too much – Jess’s life in London at the beginning and the backgrounds of some of the minor characters, for example – but otherwise I was completely gripped and read it much more quickly than I would usually read such a long book.
I loved the descriptions of rural Australia and the portrayal of 1950s Tambilla, the small town where the story takes place. As the title suggests, the theme of ‘homecoming’ plays an important part in the story: what it’s like to come home after a long absence and the idea of ‘home’ being not just the opposite of ‘away’ but also of ‘loneliness’. And for forty-year-old Jess, despite living in London for most of her adult life, Australia is still the place where she feels most at home.
The mystery at the heart of the novel – the deaths of Isabel Turner and her children – is not resolved until the end of the book and although the clues were all there, I didn’t pick up on them so didn’t work out what happened. However, there’s another family secret which has big implications for Jess and I found that one very easy to guess, which took away some of the fun. Maybe I’ve just read too many books like this one, but I thought it was very obvious! I did very much enjoy reading Daniel Miller’s As If They Were Asleep (not a real book, of course) which is reproduced in full, a few chapters here and there. It sheds some light on both mysteries, as well as allowing us to see the Turners and their friends and neighbours from a different perspective.
I do wonder whether this book might have worked just as well as a straightforward crime novel set in the 1950s, without the additional family secrets and the Jess and Nora storylines, but I know that’s not what Kate Morton does and probably not what her readers would expect from her! Anyway, apart from guessing the twist too soon, I did love this book and still have one or two of her earlier ones to look forward to.
Thanks to Pan Macmillan for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 15/50 read for the 2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.
11 thoughts on “Homecoming by Kate Morton”
I have this book on my pile, and I never know whether I’m going to love Morton’s books or just think they’re okay. This one sounds slightly like the latter, but I’m looking forward to it anyway.
I liked this one overall, but not as much as some of her others.
You never know with Morton how good it’s going to be, although it is usually somewhat good, not ever bad.
Thank you Helen! This is now on my wish list.
Great – I hope you like it!
I’ve only – so far – read one Kate Morton, quite a long time ago. I remember quite enjoying it, but feeling that she’s an author of whom I needn’t rush to read more. I seem to remember I thought it was longer than it needed to be, and it looks as if you’re advancing this opinion about this one too. So … only a ‘maybe’ from me.
Yes, I think her books are usually worth reading but maybe not something you would rush to read. This one was quite enjoyable but really didn’t need to be so long.
I have enjoyed Morton’s earlier books, but the last one I read dragged a bit, due to being unnecessarily long and it has rather put me off. That said, I am always prepared to be surprised and had been looking at this one, but was reluctant to say yes to because of the length.
Her books would definitely benefit from some editing as they often seem to be unnecessarily long. I did enjoy this one overall, though.
It was really good, but a bit too long!