When I Come Home Again by Caroline Scott

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

In chapter one of this book I was confronted, in the first paragraph, with a five and a half line or sixty-four word sentence which required me to backtrack and re-read it to get the full benefit of all those words. This was followed by the introduction of the central characters and then a long train journey where the reader was treated to a detailed description as to what was seen from the moving train. I was not feeling confident that I would enjoy this book.

Reading on, I became engrossed in trying to solve the mystery of the man arrested for drawing in chalk on church property. He did not remember his name or how he had come to be where he was. He believed that he might have done something really bad and did not want to remember. The arresting police gave him the name Adam Galilee.

This novel is about personal cost in the aftermath of World War One. It is also about the unknown and the human drive ‘to know’.  When the unidentified remains of a British soldier are treated to pomp and ceremony on its way back to London to be interred in Westminster Abbey as the Unknown Warrior, many who have not heard from their loved ones since the war are refocused to hope that they might yet be reunited with family.

A doctor Alan Shepherd had inherited two eccentric Westmoreland houses and it is to one of these buildings that Adam Galilee has been taken to recuperate. The doctor believes that it is important to retrieve Adam’s past so they can reunite him with his family. When a photo is published in the paper many people believe that the face they see before them is the one they need to know about. The doctors are overwhelmed by the response. As Dr Shepherd says, ‘What is it about Galilee?… Sheffield has had thirty applicants for their amnesiac. Netley around fifty. Why have we had over a hundred?’ (124)

The storyline has the potential to be monotonous as interviews eventually dwindle the numbers down to just a few who hold promise. Each has their own story. And so too does James Haworth, the doctor who works closest with Adam. The storylines of these two men run parallel throughout this novel and at times it appears that their roles have been swapped. James is haunted by the loss of his wife’s twin Nathaniel, who was with him during the war. Nathaniel is a name without a body while Adam is a body without a name (230).

However, I did not find this story monotonous at all. I found that my need to solve the unknown kept me involved in the story.  It is sad to be confronted with the determination, frustration, and focus which many of the characters display in their search for a loved one. Many arrive full of expectation only to find his face doesn’t actually fit (135). Adam realises their need but doesn’t believe he is the one for them. ‘I didn’t know there was so much sadness in the world. How can so many people be missing’ (155).

The character of Adam is an interesting study in psychology. There’s something unknowable and undeterminable about the situation with Adam (233). His behaviour seems odd to those observing him. Some feel that he might not be of this earth but that he might have actually fallen from the sky. James’s wife once said ‘I’m not sure that our Adam Galilee is quite of this mortal earth…there’s something going on in his eyes. They’re not always here in the here and now…. not seeing what we see…. There’s something ethereal about him (139).

The author cunningly repeats words throughout the storyline which lead the reader to believe that they can solve the unknown about Adam, but all the stories that emerge are plausible on some level. These storylines are interspersed with beautiful descriptions of the countryside and Adam’s obvious love of nature.

Adam’s story heals other characters within the storyline. They learn that achieving peace of mind is more about choosing a focus than building barriers (479). Several experience the sorrow that results from missed chances and regrets (460).

This is the second novel by Caroline Scott who has a particular interest in the challenges faced by returning soldiers and the experiences of women during the First World War. Based on true events, When I Come Home Again is beautifully written.

I thoroughly enjoyed this thought-provoking novel and feel an empathy with all those families who are still searching to solve the ‘unknown’ about their family member.

When I Come Home Again

[2020]

By Caroline Scott

Simon & Schuster Australia

IBSN: 9-781471-192180

$29.99; 496pp

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