Author: Barney Norris
Genre: Contemporary fiction, family, loss
“Things rise up and claim you, and mark you for greatness or mark you for tragedy, and the route of your life is mapped by forces entirely beyond you”.
Turning for Home is written in the format of two different perspectives, with each chapter belonging to either Kate or Robert (who is Kate’s grandfather), taking it in turns to essentially tell the tales of their lives. Robert talks about his life with his late wife Hattie, his past, and his links with the IRA. Kate talks about her strained relationship with her mother, the tragedies that have been thrown at her, and the personal battles she has had to endure. I was very excited to read this, and in the opening few pages I was blown away by how Norris had written this book, some of the sentences in here are things I have thought about so often, this is just the type of writing that I would create myself, so I was instantly drawn to these somewhat philosophical ways of thinking. But as I read on, I slowly realised how slow-moving the plot is, there isn’t any pace to it, and I think the way it is formatted just makes it worse. I love the idea of two separate perspectives within one book, but I don’t think it was executed in the most efficient and exciting way, it had much more potential.
Another thing that I couldn’t quite adapt to is the way he constantly breaks dialogue into separate chunks. It seems kind of sloppy and bitty, the way he makes the characters break off into entirely different points in time without any sort of structural or grammatical warning. I love surprises and twists in books, but I found this to be very irritating. On the other hand, I do like the fact that this format could be a metaphor for the complexity of the human mind and our emotions, memories are bitty and random, grief is unorganised and unstructured. The bittiness is a very accurate representation of how we as humans think and feel, particularly in times of pain. We may be in a public setting; we might even be in the middle of a conversation with someone, whilst simultaneously re-living a completely different memory in the back of our heads, trying to balance both scenarios, so that the past doesn’t accidentally slip over into the future. If this is what he intended to portray, then I think that is a very clever observation of the power of human emotion.
Although there were a few things I disliked, e.g. the whole IRA story itself, which seemed to be shoved in at the last minute to add a bit more depth to the character, I found myself becoming more enthralled as I delved deeper into the plot. The pace picks up a bit and we really start to gain an insight into these characters minds, we start to resonate with the very normal and common human emotions that they are dealing with. Grief, loss, family tension, mental health issues, the point really starts to become clear. This book doesn’t have a bulky plot, and in time it becomes clear why, this book is more about the simplicity of characters exposing their truths, their deepest emotions and how they attempt to decipher them. The book became metaphorically richer as I kept reading, each quote touched me more than the previous one as the focus finally came into play, pain…the pain we all feel, that we can do nothing about. It is raw and honest, and the anorexia storyline is dealt with such accuracy and truth, and the way the characters react are not forced or overly dramatised, they are truthful representations.
Having experienced grief first-hand, there were a lot of things that resonated with me in this book. It provides an honest and raw analysis of the grief we feel, and how it impacts each person differently, it focuses on our individuality as human beings, how we each deal with the pain life throws at us, a profound commentary on how we live and feel, and how the things that happen to us are out of our control, as scary as that may seem. I started this book feeling kind of disappointed, and I ended up feeling moved. There wasn’t an ultimate revelation, it didn’t alter my mind, instead it simply reminded me that human emotion is the strongest thing we can feel, it reinforced the idea that everybody feels these things, it is just hard to lay it all out in the open, where we feel most vulnerable. This book is like looking in the mirror, and I believe that every person, even if they have never experienced the events that unfold in this book, can take something away from it.
If you stick with it, Turning for Home is an excellent contemporary reflection of life, constant family and societal influence, and the idea that the past is just as present and relevant to us as the future is.