Review: Our Homesick Songs - Emma Hooper
Genre: Literary Fiction
Published: Simon & Schuster, August 2018
My Rating: 4/5 stars
“All songs are homesick songs, Finn. Even the happy ones? Especially the happy ones.”
A deserving 4-stars for this beautiful generational tale of a community at the brink of change.
The inhabitants of an idyllic fishing village in Newfoundland, have lived primarily of the cod industry for decades. That all changes when the fish seem to mysteriously disappear. As desperation grows and the temptation of a newer way of life calls, many families up and leave for distant shores, leaving the town of Big Running as an almost empty ghost town. Our story follows the Connors, one of the few prevailing families left behind, over the course of 40 years. We move between a time where fish were plentiful and Aiden and Martha met each other as teenagers, to present day, where their children struggle with the reality of their dying way of life.
If I had to mention only one strong point of this novel, it’s the phenomenal sense of atmosphere and place that permeates throughout. Our Homesick Songs has the quiet and almost melancholic beauty of a mermaids song carried over the water. Both that atmosphere and that note of music are present throughout the entire story as well, both as a beckoning call from distant shores as a solid anchor that roots home. It fits the themes of the story perfectly and makes it difficult not to feel whilst reading. One of my biggest gripes in some generational stories is the loss of coherence throughout the storylines, and this element of connection does a beautiful job of preventing that. (both on a story-level as a more technical one)
Emma Hooper chose a fairly plain and minimalistic writingstyle, which might divide opinions a bit. Personally, although I wasn’t a fan of the heavily simplistic dialogues all the time, I think it fitted the story well. Hooper matches her writingstyle to the age of the protagonist they’re following, adopting a simpler and almost middle-grade style for young Aiden and Finn, whilst matching the more adult characters with a similar narrative tone. I personally loved this, and think it’s a testament to a great author if they can pull this off, let alone in a way that I notice it, but it doesn’t feel gimmicky. Despite what the premise made me suspect, this isn’t magical realism, although the rich ambience and sprinkles of folktales can remind you of that genre. Maybe it was that musical element, maybe something else I can’t put my finger on yet, but despite the simplistic writing style this novel still has a lyrical feel throughout. The individual sentences are minimalistic enough to be absorbed with ease, yet the story as a whole flows like more than the sum of it’s parts.
My only point of critique, and the reason I don’t give this novel 5 full stars is that I didn’t find myself being pulled back into the story anytime I put the book down. There was always this brief moment where I had to push myself to pick the book back up. This could well have been completely personal; more telling of the mood that I’m in than the book itself. If, with time, I feel that’s the case, I might up my rating to a 4.5.
Overall, I feel like Our Homesick Songs is a ballad to a dying way of life, that still conveys the sense of hope and resilience of the community at hand. If atmosphere and a beautiful sense of place are something you look for in a novel, this novel needs to be on you radar.
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