By Elizabeth Day
Bloomsbury, $16.00, 250 pages
In Home Fires, author Elizabeth Day introduces readers to three main characters: Andrew and Caroline – a recently bereave couple whose only son has died in South Sudan while on military duty – and Elsa, Andrew’s ninety-eight-year-old mother whom Andrew brings to their house because she is too old and weak to care for herself. In the chapters of the novel, proceeding character-wise, the inner conflict of grief and adjustment process is revealed for the three family members, giving rise to new challenges for each one and quietly bringing new distances between them.
The novel’s constructive details are impressive. The story is told in present as well as flashbacks, usually distinguishable, but at times getting too frequently switching on the same place as to demand close attention from of the reader.
“Now, though, Elsa knew better. She knew that the appearance of things was more important to adults than the truth of what lay beneath.”
Writing a character-driven novel is not easy and the author of this novel has done a good job on moving the plot forward entirely by the character’s internal and external conflicts. There are times when the narration shows the weakness of more telling than showing but also many places where the immediacy of the situation and emotional atmosphere is conveyed fully by showing through one of the lead the characters’ eyes. The ending is very powerful and moving, showing the final journey of Elsa with wonderful strength of imagination and richness of creativity. Readers who are into slow progression and gradual unfolding of the plot and conflict will likely enjoy this novel.
An additional element that adds to the book’s value, especially for readers who are or want to be part of any reading group, is a list of discussion questions included at the end of the novel.
Reviewed by Ernest Dempsey