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I like to read classics, historical fiction and world lit. Oh and I love short stories.


de Thuiskomst (the Return Home) by Anna Enquist

De thuiskomst - Anna Enquist

nb. this book has not been translated into English (as far as I know), but is available in Dutch (original language), French and German, and perhaps some other languages as well.

I will say before I start with the review that I did not finish this book. I read until half-way and then I gave up. It's not that it isn't any good, it's just that this main character is written in such a way that I couldn't finish it.

First the positive. There are many good things about this book. It's about Elizabeth Cook, wife of the famous explorer James Cook. I think this is a very interesting premise for a novel: instead of writing the story about James and his adventures and discoveries, we get to read about the woman who stayed behind, who had to do things all on her own and despite years of marriage didn't spend more than one entire year in her husband's company. That was the reason I wanted to read this novel. It's an interesting, fresh subject and it's so interesting to explore the role and life of women like Elizabeth Cook. I do think the novel succeeds in this. It shows the loneliness, the doubt, the self-denial and generally the harsh life of a woman who has to do everything on her own - from running the household to mourning over her children who died at a young age.

The writing is clean and gives a great sense of the period and the confined world of Elizabeth: her home, the daily rounds she walks, her imaginations about James' travels.

However, I had a major issue with the way Elizabeth was written. The author clearly meant to get across to the reader to show how hard life was for Elizabeth, and the effect it had on her mental wellbeing. After all, she lived to be well into her nineties, she lost all her children, her husband, her best friend, etc. That's hard, I get that. But from page one of the novel (when she still has her husband, who is on the return after a long journey! shouldn't you be happy about that?), we get nothing but a defeated character. If the writer set out to write a depressed character, she succeeded. However, I personally cannot read about such defeatism, such self-loathing, self-denial and self-sacrifice, without a spark of hope that it will change. I just don't handle narrow POV stories about depressed characters very well.

I kept on reading until halfway through the novel, hoping for Elizabeth to change quickly, but everything just circled back to her defeatism. There was nothing to feel for this character except pity and frustration that she didn't try to do anything on her own initiative, for herself, or her own happiness. I had to abandon the novel.

Perhaps others find this a really wonderful portrayal of a woman who had centered her life around a husband who was never there, and as a consequence had a tough, unhappy life, and the kind of effect it had on her psyche. Sadly, it was not for me.