The Homecoming by Anna Enquist (translated by Eileen J. Stevens) will be published on April 1st with Amazon Crossing. Depicting the life of Elizabeth Cook, wife of explorer James Cook, as she navigates family, love, and duty as an independent woman ahead of her time, it is described as ‘an intimate and sharply observed novel’.
The Homecoming, and Karitas by Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir (translated by Philip Roughton), are both part of this wonderful blog tour celebrating translated fiction, in conjunction with FMcM Associates and Amazon Crossing.
I am sharing an extract from The Homecoming today but please do also check out Karitas which was published March 1st with Amazon Crossing. An award-winning novel, Karitas is considered a modern classic in Iceland. It tells the beautifully written and moving story of Karitas, a woman at the turn of the 20th century who refuses to be defined by the conventions of society, instead achieving powerful self-expression through art. (See the blog tour poster below for lots more detail via my blogging buddies).
[ About the Book ]
After twelve years of marriage to English explorer James Cook, Elizabeth has yet to spend an entire year with her husband. In their house by the Thames, she moves to the rhythms of her life as a society wife, but there is so much more to her than meets the eye. Whilst managing the house and garden and raising their children, Elizabeth faces unbearable sorrows alone.
As she prepares for another homecoming, Elizabeth looks forward to James’ triumphant return the work she will undertake, reading and editing her husband’s voluminous journals. But will the private life she’s been leading in his absence distract her from her role in aid of her husband’s grand ambitions? Can James find the compassion to support her as their family faces unimaginable loss, or must she endure life alone as he sails off toward another adventure?
An intimate and sharply observed novel, The Homecoming is as revelatory as James Cook’s exploration of distant frontiers and as richly rewarding as Elizabeth’s love for her family. Anna Enquist brilliantly narrates Elizabeth’s compelling record of her life, painting a psychological portrait of an independent woman ahead of her time.
[ Extract ]
It was ten o’clock, a morning in early April; the boys were at school and she wasn’t expecting anyone. There was time, but she squandered it. What was she waiting for? Not for help. She preferred to accomplish this task on her own. She didn’t sit down on the narrow window seat but continued pacing as if she’d lost something.
She was worn out. Every inch of her thirty-three-year-old body wanted to sink to the ground and stay there. Preferably outdoors, in the grass beneath the linden tree. The fatigue was hard to understand because she had slept well that week, had had enough to eat, and hadn’t undertaken any arduous physical labor. And yet she felt like she’d been carrying a yoke weighed down with heavy buckets of milk.
Among the letters and newspapers, she picked out items that had been misplaced: a beribboned bonnet, a handkerchief, an orange so dried out that its seeds ticked against its leathery skin when she tossed it on the floor.
Stoop. In the basket. Stand up again in one motion and immediately grab some of the papers. That’s the way.
There was a letter from Philip Stephens about money: In accordance with your husband’s wishes, the Admiralty has agreed to allocate you two hundred pounds a year during his voyage. Keep. James will want to read this. It was his money: he earned it by sailing around the world. No reason to be plagued by an annoying sense of obligatory gratitude. It wasn’t charity, or a tip. The amount, and more besides, was hers by right. She pictured the Lords of the Admiralty in a meeting, fired up about James’s expedition—full of pride, patriotism, and self-importance. “Oh, yes, that wife of his also has to eat; it’s a substantial amount. Will you see that she gets it?”
She shrugged. The next letter, in Hugh Palliser’s hand, was about the boys. I just learned, dearest Elizabeth, that your eldest, the hale and hearty James Jr., will enter the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth after the summer. He’s no doubt looking forward to following in his father’s footsteps. Or in his father’s wake, should I say? Nice that you can keep young Nathaniel home for another year; otherwise it might be awfully lonely for you. Of course, we all hope that James will return safely this year, but you’re well aware of the uncertainties surrounding these expeditions. Rest assured that I am here for you, whenever you need me.
Hugh Palliser, the comptroller of the Navy, who’d encouraged and endorsed James and had put in a good word for him with the Admiralty. She smiled and set the letter to one side with her own papers. She would invite him around for tea in the garden so he could chat with Jamie and Nat.
She gathered bills and threw away newspaper clippings. The base of the pile she was working on came into view: three thick, dark volumes about explorations in the South Sea. The writer’s name was inscribed in gold: John Hawkesworth. She picked up the books and gently knocked off the dust. James would be livid. Hawkesworth had appropriated James’s journals and described the voyage as if he had made it himself. She had compared the text with the original logs and was peeved by the exaggerations and errors, annoyed with the writer as well as with her husband. What a blunder to hand over your story so naively. It was all well and good that James felt such boorish bitterness for the world of pompous aficionados of high culture, but by submitting his writings and refusing to take part in their editing, he was only harming himself. He said he felt ashamed—he couldn’t spell and wasn’t able to cobble together a decent sentence. True enough, but what he had to say was certainly worthwhile. Someone should come to his aid.
Me, she thought, me.
She found a picture of a boat beside Hawkesworth’s folios, a detailed child’s drawing. Jamie’s. In it, he’d peeled away the hull of the ship, revealing storerooms full of barrels and bales, the hold, and various cabins. He’d depicted a seated man in the captain’s quarters, writing at a table with his back to the viewer. There was a cow and a goat on the afterdeck.
Why shouldn’t she help James with his next book? Before long, he’d be here at the table, griping and grumbling. Soon, as his mood soured, he’d be ruining his texts with exaggerated thanks and an insincere display of servitude. Such a pity. Let me do it. If he comes home before autumn, the days will be getting shorter, and we’ll have plenty of long, dark evenings ahead. Working side by side on an important project would be a distraction, a good way of resuming conjugal life.
Upon his return, they would have been married more than twelve years, but they’d not yet spent an entire year under the same roof. Every spring, James invariably sailed away, only coming back in November. Christmas. A table full of maps and charts of coastal landscapes. He lived a double life. So did she. That set the rhythm, and the reassurance that went along with it. She’d only been frightened once, when he’d come home with a jagged, barely healed scar across his right palm. A powder horn had exploded, he said; could have been worse. The breach of his flawless skin was a reminder that he worked for the Navy, and fighting and devastation could be part of the job. After a day or so, her anxiety ebbed. It was in the past, he was walking through the house, she could hear his voice and follow his activities. His presence drew her attention away from the injury and what it signified.
Ever since, he’d worn a glove on his right hand. Was he ashamed of the mutilation, or trying not to alarm others? The wound was thick and seemed healed, the scar slithering like a pale snake to the wrist. She could feel it at night as he slid his hands from her thigh to her shoulders. The scar rasping against her skin. She should cradle his hand in hers and slowly move her tongue over the wound, to incorporate the scar, to add it to the cartography of her husband’s body.
There was a lot to do. Meals to be planned, prepared, and eaten; the boys’ clothes washed, mended, and replaced. The kitchen garden sown, fertilized, and weeded. She did have help, people who assisted her with these tasks and nudged her or even pushed her to take the initiative. Nat, for instance, stumbling through the room to show how he’d outgrown his shoes. Or the maid, sitting beside her with a shopping basket on her lap, planning the day’s menu. The gardener as well, who asked where the carrots and parsnips should be planted, and who could only get to work once she had made up her mind. There was so much to do. It seemed more than before, more than during the initial years of this second voyage around the world. The foreshadowing of James’s return was already coloring the daily chores. He was bound to have an opinion about where to plant the vegetables, well thought out and based on sensible considerations regarding the angle of the sun and the water supply. She began to look at the house, garden, and children as if through his eyes, and observed that there was much that needed to be altered, cleaned, and discarded. As if she had let things slide the minute he walked out the door. But that wasn’t the case. Her sense of order was simply different. Was it just her imagination? Did the critical captain exist only in her mind? Soon, young Nat’s habit of climbing into bed with her every morning would be a thing of the past. Out of the question.
It would all be over after this voyage. A new life would begin, a summer life.
She’d been alone for twelve summers. It wasn’t so bad. She knew what she was getting into before she decided to marry this seafarer. Loneliness didn’t bother her, and at first she even looked forward to it. There’d always been a reunion. Then the bed would seem too big or too small; there would be activity and variety. When Jamie was born, she’d cherished the solitude, enjoyed being alone with that tiny baby. Every autumn, the ship returned over the Atlantic. When the apples were ripening, the leaves turning color and falling from the trees, a coach would suddenly rattle through the street, and the front door would be flung open. A fresh wind would race through the house, and nothing would be the same.
Purchase Link ~ The Homecoming
[ Bio ]
Anna Enquist studied piano at the academy of music in The Hague and psychology at Leiden University. She is the author of the novels The Masterpiece; The Secret, winner of the 1997 Dutch Book of the Year awarded by the public; The Ice Carriers; Counterpoint; Quartet; and the international bestseller T he Homecoming, which received the Prix du Livre Corderie Royale-Hermione for its French translation. Anna is also the author of A Leap, a collection of dramatic monologues, as well as numerous poetry collections, including Soldiers’ Songs, for which she was awarded the C. Buddingh’ Prize; A New Goodbye; and Hunting Scenes, winner of the Lucy B. and C.W. van der Hoogt Prize.
Eileen J. Stevens earned her MA in linguistics with a specialization in translation from the University of Amsterdam. Her many Dutch-to-English translation credits include Connie Palmen’s Your Story, My Story; Karin Schacknat’s In and Out of Fashion; Vera Mertens’s The Concentration Camp; and Ineke van Doorn’s Singing from the Inside Out. She has also translated numerous essays on classical music and the arts. A New Jersey native, Eileen spent twenty-five years working as a professional violinist in a Dutch orchestra and has lived in Amsterdam since 1990.