The Homecoming by Anna Enquist

Amazon Crossing| 1 April 2022| Print length 383 pages| 4*

I’ve read one book by Anna Enquist, a Leap, which is a collection of short stories, so when I saw The Homecoming was one of the Amazon First Reads for March this year I decided that was the one for me. It was first published in 2005 in Dutch and this English edition was translated by Eileen J Stevens in 2022.

There’s a lot written about Captain James Cook, the 18th century explorer, but I’d never come across anything about his wife, Elizabeth, before. The story is told from Elizabeth’s perspective and begins as she is at home in Mile End in London, preparing for James’s return home after his Second Voyage round the world in the ships Resolution and Adventure in 1775. This book is historical fiction, based on historical facts, although as the author writes in her Afterword: ‘the story is woven between the cracks of those verifiable cracks.’

So because there is little known about Elizabeth’s life, much of her story is the result of the author’s imagination and conjecture, but using the dates of births and deaths, of James’s departures and homecomings, and of letters and meeting. What is fact, is that she had six children – five sons and one daughter – and she outlived all of them. It is a heart-wrenching story as Elizabeth copes at home alone without her husband, a story of daily, domestic life at the end of the 18th century. She is a strong and resourceful woman who loves her husband, coping whilst desperately hoping he will not leave for a third voyage.

I was immediately drawn into the story and thoroughly enjoyed it, apart from the ending, which did spoil it somewhat. I can’t explain what happens at the end without giving away too much, except to say that it is Anna Enquist’s version of Cook’s death on Hawai’i as she imagines what was going on in his head as the days drew on towards the final tragedy – and it is strange, very strange.

Reading The Homecoming has made me want to know more about the Cook family and James’s life in particular. So, I was pleased to see there is a bibliography at the end of the book. And I also found there is another novel about Elizabeth: Mrs Cook: the Real and Imagined Life of the Captain’s Wife by Marele Day.

Other sources:

The Captain Cook Society

The Royal Naval Museum Information sheet on James Cook and a reading list

3 thoughts on “The Homecoming by Anna Enquist

  1. You’re now the second person I trust who’s said this was a fine novel. And it is a very interesting idea to take this approach to looking at Cook. Elizabeth does sound like an engaging character – one you want to know more about, so I can see how you were drawn in.

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    • The picture Enquist paints of Elizabeth is of a strong woman who survived tragedy after tragedy and lived for another 56 years after her husband’s death. She died in 1835 at the grand old age of 93.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cook plays such a pivotal part in Australian history so I feel as though this is a must read for me!
    Thanks for sharing with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

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