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Kate Morton


Kate Morton’s new novel is a rambling book about a single traumatic, tragic event and its long-running con-sequences. Set in London and various parts of Australia, the story concerns three generations of the same family: grandmother Nora, mother Polly, and granddaughter Jess, the latter two of whom have been brought up entirely by their mothers, in the complete absence of their fathers.

The starting point of "Homecoming" - and the core of its story - is the death of Mrs Isabel Turner and her three eldest children in an apparent murder/suicide on Christmas Eve 1959 while picnicking beside a creek near their house in the hills outside Adelaide in South Australia. Her youngest child, Thea, then a newborn baby, had been taken with her siblings to the picnic but went missing.

The three women, Nora, Polly, and Jess, are central to the story but so too are two houses. One of them, Halcyon, is the grand nineteenth-century colonial house in the Georgian style in the Adelaide Hills where the Turner family comes to grief. The other is Darling House, Nora’s family home, another imposing coloni-al-era house, this one on a promontory above Sydney Harbour. Both houses loom large in the novel, forming the backdrop to much of the story.

"Homecoming" tells the story of Jess’s investigation into her family’s murky past. Jess, unoriginally cast as a journalist, has been living in London for twenty years but returns to Australia in December 2018 when her grandmother Nora becomes seriously ill. Once there, realising that there may be more to her family back-ground than meets the eye, she begins to investigate the tragic events at Halcyon sixty years earlier. Much of the exposition of the story of the Turner family’s demise is achieved using the device of a book within the book "As if They Were Asleep", the work of Daniel Miller, an American journalist who reported on the Turner story in 1960.

As Jess probes more deeply into the events of Christmas 1959, all manner of secrets begin to emerge about her family’s past. Indeed, wilful deceit and keeping secrets from each other seem to be family traits. The Turners’ story is also intimately connected to the inhabitants of Tambilla, Halcyon’s local town, who gradu-ally emerge as important actors in the story.

At more than 620 pages, "Homecoming" is too long and would have benefitted from more rigorous editing. On the one hand, Morton’s descriptions of the two houses and the countryside of the Adelaide Hills are evocative, conveying a strong sense of place. On the other, there are passages of extraneous detail which add little but length to the book. I found some phrases grating: at one point, Morton refers to a room being covered in ‘legacy dust’. One glitch in the plot struck me as lacking in credibility, but on the whole, "Home-coming" is an absorbing novel about love, family, deceit, and the notion of home.

Richard Hopton


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