It was last April when I was so excited to meet Erica James, author of Coming Home to Island House at the Deepings Literary Festival in my home town and to have afternoon tea with her. You can read about that event here. Having been privileged to help reveal the cover to Coming Home to Island House in July last year, I would like to thank Elaine Egan at Orion for sending me an advanced reader copy in return for an honest review.
I have also previously reviewed another of Erica’s books, The Dandelion Years here.
Coming Home to Island House will be published by Orion on 11th January 2018 and is available for pre-order here.
Coming Home to Island House
It’s the summer of 1939, and after touring an unsettled Europe to promote her latest book, Romily Temple returns home to Island House and the love of her life, the charismatic Jack Devereux.
But when Jack falls ill, his estranged family are called home and given seven days to find a way to bury their resentments and come together.
With war now declared, each member of the family is reluctantly forced to accept their new stepmother and confront their own shortcomings. But can the habits of a lifetime be changed in one week? And can Romily, a woman who thrives on adventure, cope with the life that has been so unexpectedly thrust upon her?
My Review of Coming Home to Island House
Marrying Jack Devereux will bring challenges for author Romily Temple that she can’t possibly anticipate.
I’ve always enjoyed Erica James’ writing, but I thought Coming Home to Island House was one of her best novels and I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt the title was inspired as it made me think of John Donne’s ‘no man is an island’ because so much of the story is based around relationships. Erica James understands flawlessly how we interact with our families and within society, with an overall message that, indeed, no man or woman is an island. I found the exploration of how we become who we are, through the way we are treated by others, or we perceive we have been treated, was very thought provoking. Even the abominable Arthur was an understandable character (despite the fact I could quite cheerfully have throttled him with my bare hands).
And it is the people in Coming Home to Island House that make it such a compelling read. Arthur aside (whom I loathed without reservation even at the end of the book) I felt I could happily have spent time with any one of the people between the pages. Whilst some minor characters are slightly stereotypical, such as the pompous vicar, the protagonists are wonderfully drawn individuals. These are real, flawed, complex people with lives that are challenging, imperfect and captivating to the reader. I loved Romily and Florence in particular. They come from opposing ends of the social spectrum but have many similar qualities so that there is a very clear message that birth and money do not equal worth and value.
What I so enjoyed, was that whilst World War Two is so frequently a backdrop to what might be called women’s fiction, Erica James uses it as a catalyst for action so skilfully, providing a sensitive insight into the impact of those directly and indirectly affected by its events, giving the reader a wonderful understanding of the time and the people. There’s also a smashing depiction of village life and the way in which the mores of society evolved and changed at the time. I’d love to see this novel picked up for a television drama as I think it has all the elements of perfect Sunday evening viewing, exploring as it does social standing, adultery, illegitimacy, feminism and patriotism.
Coming Home to Island House has a cracking plot too. At times it is surprisingly almost brutal but always realistic so that whilst I began reading the story thinking smugly that I knew how it would all pan out, I found several surprises along the way, making for a highly entertaining and very satisfying read. It might sound trivial, but I also loved the way the chapters were constructed. In a busy life, a short chapter that really packs a punch, ends brilliantly and leads on the reader to the next part of the narrative, but is short enough to be read in its entirety in 10 minutes or so is just a delight.
Coming Home to Island House is Erica James at her very best. It has wonderful characters, an engaging plot and mature, thought-provoking themes making it a fulfilling, hugely enjoyable read. I really recommend it.
About Erica James
With an insatiable appetite for other people’s business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother’s compulsion.
The author of many bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight, which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and her Sunday Times top ten bestsellers, Summer At The Lake and The Dandelion Years, Erica now divides her time between Suffolk and Lake Como in Italy, where she strikes up conversation with unsuspecting Italians.