Nancy's Reviews > Our Homesick Songs

Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper
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it was amazing
bookshelves: netgalley

I adored Emma Hooper's first novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James, which I read in 24 hours, and which had me in tears. I finished my review with the words "Read it."

So I was super excited to read Hooper's new novel Our Homesick Songs. I had high expectations and was not disappointed. I was enchanted by the writing.

The story is set in a small Newfoundland fishing village suffering from the impact of over-fishing by commercial ships that are "big as bergs; monster-big" and able to hold "a whole sea" of fish. Their livelihood over, the villagers leave, going West for jobs on mainland Canada.

The Connor family is hanging on. The parents Aiden and Martha share alternating monthly sifts working inland where they are surrounded by concrete, steel, and trucks, the light and noise never-ending. Martha asks a co-worker what it was like "here, before" and he tells her, "There were only trees."

Daughter Cora longs to leave the island for a 'normal' life packed with other children. She turns the empty houses into travel destinations.

Son Finn loves his home and feels at one with the land. He carries his accordion with him, even on the boat, playing traditional Newfoundland jigs and reels and airs to the open seas and clouded skies around him. He endeavors to bring back the fish, wondering if any are left in the oceans anywhere, and hoping the community will return.

The Connor parents work inland with other displaced workers. They are lonely and isolated, forever separated, seeing each other only in passing as they change places at the ferry every month. During their month home, the parents sing less. They return tired and depressed. The stress and distance wear on their marriage.

Like Hooper's first novel, there is a touch of magical realism and the characters go on journeys both physical and internal. The parent's charming backstory is sweet and magical, their courting taking place on boats at sea in the night, and includes a treacherous sea journey.

The history behind the novel caught my interest: the loss of the cod which was the basis of an entire way of life. A quick Internet search and I learned how overfishing decimated the cod, forcing the Canadian government to enact the 1992 moratorium on cod fishing that left 35,000 Newfoundlanders out of work. The impact on community and family life is portrayed in Our Homesick Songs.

Newfoundland is central to the novel, its rocky shores and waters and snow and ice and bergs vividly described. And so is the Celtic music of Newfoundland, brought by the Irish. Social gatherings conclude with music.

Finn travels across the water to his music lessons. His elderly teacher Mrs. Callaghan captures his imagination with strange stories about snakes becoming fish and shipwrecks harboring the fish. She tells him that the songs were how the sailors and explorers remembered their homes. They are all homesick songs, even the happy ones, she says. When Finn cannot sleep at night, he calls his teacher and she tells him stories.

One song that reoccurs is The Water is Wide, an ancient song from Great Britain, which Aidan sings early in the novel. Others include the love song She's Like the Swallow and fiddle tunes Finn plays such as The Newfoundland Black Bear and The Cotton Grass Air, The Fish of the Sea.

"No, the dead can't sing, Aidan, that's why the living have to."

Aiden has a coffee cup that reads "Squidjiggingground" which is also the name of a song by Arthur Scammell about squid fishermen. The lyrics give a sense of the life that has been lost, the camaraderie and community.

Oh this is the place where the fishermen gather
Oil-skins and boots and the Cape hands batten down;
All sizes of figures with squid lines and jiggers,
They congregate here on the Squid-Jiggin' Ground.

Some are workin' their jiggers, while others are yarnin',
There's some standin' up and there's more lyin' down;
While all kinds of fun, jokes, and drinks are begun,
As they wait for the squid on the Squid-Jiggin' Ground.

The story feels like a tale told by Finn's accordion teacher, a fairy tale with magic feathers and mermaids singing. And like most folk tales, the underlying reality is terrifyingly real.

I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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Reading Progress

June 12, 2018 – Started Reading
June 12, 2018 – Shelved
June 12, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
June 12, 2018 –
page 56
17.18%
June 13, 2018 –
page 110
33.74%
June 14, 2018 –
page 183
56.13%
June 14, 2018 – Finished Reading
June 16, 2018 – Shelved as: netgalley

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara Oh no! Another author I have to try.


Nancy Lol, don’t you hate that?


message 3: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Wow! I'm thinking the same thing as Barbara. . . a whole new author to meet!


Nancy Nice! Glad to hear it Julie! I hope you love her as much as I do.


Cheri Such a lovely review, Nancy, I was debating the stars on this one, 4 or 5, for me I would say it was more of a 4.5 but I went with four. I may end up changing it, but mainly because it's still bugging me! I haven't read her first novel yet, but I loved this enough to want to read that one even more now!


Elyse Walters Geee between you & Cheri .. I ‘kinda’ wish I did visit Netgalley again. Lol. GREAT REVIEW...

I put it on my wish list. ..I’ll wait for later ...a library read. Thanks Nancy.


Angela M Lovely review, Nancy ! A 5 star for me !


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