BOOK CLUB: When I Come Home Again

“When I Come Home Again” by Caroline Scott is a novel that has a strong impact. I found it took a while to fully absorb it, and I’m still thinking about it days later. I found it moving, more emotional than I expected, and well worth my time.

In 1918, a soldier is found in Durham Cathedral. He has no identification, and can’t remember his own name, or any details of his past. Eventually, those treating him make a public enquiry for help, and are promptly besieged by hundreds of people – primarily women – all sure he is the soldier whose return they’ve been waiting for. They can’t all be right. Adam and his carers must sort through the crowd to try to reunite him with the correct family.

Meanwhile, James Haworth, the psychologist trying to help Adam recover his memories, is fighting his own demons resulting from his war service. They may in fact be much the same as Adam’s demons, but James is clearly dealing with them in a very different way – but not necessarily a better one.

The prose is an unusual style, an observational style with a little distance that evokes the stiff upper lip that the British are so proud of, while showing the vulnerability that so often lies beneath. It’s a slower read than some novels, but I appreciated that. It reflected the time that passed in the novel, and also gave me an opportunity to think about what I was reading en route (so to speak) rather than just reflecting when I’d finished.

“When I Come Home Again” is very interested in the nature of love, and hope, and sorrow, and perhaps in wishful thinking too. Or is that just love? When so many women are convinced that the anonymous soldier is their husband, brother, lover, is it wishful thinking, or steadfast love, or crippling grief that makes them blind to reality?

Adam’s story is nominally the focus of the novel, but the stories of James Haworth and three of the women most determined to believe he is “theirs” are equally important. Obviously, we know at once that not all of them are right. And yet all believe with absolute certainty that they are. Part of the intrigue of the novel is trying to work out which woman you believe.

But along the way, the novel asks you to consider not just the trauma of the men who fought in World War I, but the trauma of those waiting for them to return. And even more so, the trauma of those whose loved ones never return – especially if their fate is only assumed, but can’t be proven.

It doesn’t go at all where you expect it to, and yet the ending does feel very right – it grows naturally out of what has gone before. There is both sadness and hope in it, and in a sense that may be the message of the novel: that both are a natural part of life.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading When I Come Home Again by Caroline ScottYou can read their comments below, or add your own review.

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