Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Elsey Come Home

Title:  Elsey Come Home
Author:  Susan Conley
Publication Information:  Knopf. 2019. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0525520988 / 978-0525520986

Book Source:  I received this book through Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "About a year ago my husband handed me a brochure for a retreat in a nearby mountain village."

Favorite Quote:  "I want to be the heroine of my story. And you, too, Elsey. You, too, be the heroine. Not the victim. Understand? Because the heroine is the one who owns the story."

Elsey was and maybe is again a painter. Something, I am not entirely sure what, brings her to Bejing, China. She meets Danish expatriate Lukas. The two marry and settle in China. They have two daughters, who are still young and in need of a lot of attention.

Elsey cannot deal. She stops painting. She is unable to care for the girls. She drinks. She drinks a lot, driven by unhappiness and descending into alcoholism. Her husband gives her a brochure for a mountain retreat in Shashan. His suggestion borders on an ultimatum. For their life to hold together, Elsey has to be get better. So, Elsey goes.

She starts a journey with strangers. Their struggles create a bond. Elsey's journey inwards also brings her to her past and her childhood. The issues she needs to face are not just of her married life and the challenge of balancing marriage, children, and a career. The issues have roots reaching far back into Elsey's life and the death of her sister Margaret.

Is she successful? In some ways, the book begins with the ending. The opening sentence of the book states that it is a year after Lukas gives her the brochure. The fact that it is a year later and the fact that Elsey references her husband in that same opening is an indication of part of the ending. The rest of the book is the further definition of what life a year later looks like and how Elsey gets there.

This book confuses me. It travels between time periods with little warning. The story is also told all from Elsey's perspective so a change in voice does not even mark a shift in time. I find myself getting lost and unable to really follow Elsey's journey. Oddly, for all her struggles, Elsey for me fails to develop as a sympathetic character. Perhaps, that too is a function of the jumping time frames for the continuity of emotion is lost for me.

The retreat Elsey goes to involves what you might expect - yoga, meditation, silences. It also involves the other participants and the organizers. It is through these people that Elsey begins to come to terms with her own emotions. All this in a week. As a reader, the issue once again is that the changing time lines and the view onto these individuals through Elsey's eyes keeps these characters from really developing or engaging. The characters sound interesting from the descriptions; they just seems forever at a distance as the story remains firmly Elsey's.

Perhaps the storytelling - both meandering through time but simultaneously singularly focused on Elsey - mimics the nature of addiction. For me, some further explanation and grounding is needed for me to walk away with that complete image. Too many characters. Too many time periods. Too many details. And yet, at the same time, not enough to pull me completely in emotionally. Sadly, I find myself unable to follow and unable to be the reader for this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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