When I was in Cornwall in July walking the coastal path with my dog I met a lovely Cornish farmer called Erica. Whilst we were walking the path and chatting she told me about the coach loads of German tourists who come to Cornwall every summer because of Rosamunde Pilcher’s novels and their German TV adaptations. I had read and hugely enjoyed The Shell Seekers (see my blog) some years ago, and so I put another of her books set in Cornwall, Coming Home, on my wishlist. It was bought for me for my birthday by my best friend Cali and it turned out to be perfect escapist reading over the summer. Its 1000 plus pages flew by.
It starts in 1935 in Cornwall as the protagonist, 14 year old Judith Dunbar, faces life without her family as her mother and younger sister prepare to join her father in Sri Lanka, packing her off to boarding school. Here she meets fellow pupil Loveday Carey-Lewis who becomes her best friend and whose family adopt Judith and welcome her with open arms into their lives and into their home Nancherrow, an estate on the coast near Penzance. Judith is swept up into the wealth and glamour of a pre-war world, with a cast of characters and a daily life told in such detail that as a reader you feel that you are living it alongside them. But the foreboding builds as you discover that Judith’s family plan to move from Sri Lanka to Singapore. The benefit of history tells you that Singapore is not somewhere you want to end up as a British citizen in 1942.
As Judith grows up she falls in love, prepares for University and her adult life, and a trip to join her family, but everything is put on hold as war breaks out. Tragedy soon strikes and the Carey-Lewis family are forced to adjust to wartime life, whilst Judith finds a way to make herself useful as she awaits news of her family on the other side of the world.
This is a masterpiece of a book and, in my opinion, a hugely underrated one. The depth of the world it lays out is immense and it deals brilliantly with the realities of war in Britain and in the Far East. You await with bated breath to hear the fate of Judith’s family and when the horrors of Changi prison and the Thai Burma railway emerge they are dealt with sensitively and bravely. Having been to Changi (pictured in the photo above) last year, and to the Thai-Burma railway ten years ago (see my blog on The Colonel of Tamarkan) I found this particularly moving.
For me Coming Home has become one of my favourite books.