Winter, 1904, and feisty twenty-one-year old Ellen has been summoned back from her new life in Hoboken, New Jersey, to the family farm on windswept Gower, in a last bid to prevent the impending death of her alcoholic father.
On her return, she finds the family in disarray. Ailing William is gambling away large swathes of Thomas land; frustrated Eleanor is mourning the husband she once knew; and Ellen’s younger twin brothers face difficult choices.
Ellen, tasked with putting her family’s lives in order, finds herself battling one impossible decision after another. Resourceful, passionate, and forthright, can she remain in Gower, where being female still brings with it so many limitations? Can she endure being so close to her lost love? Will she choose home and duty, or excitement and opportunity across the Atlantic?
I absolutely love the books published by Honno, the small Welsh publishing imprint that promotes women’s voices and I am delighted to be sharing my stop on the blog tour today, talking about a book that I feel will appeal to lots of my booksish friends. It’s an original, moving and engaging read and I’m urging you to go online and order yourself a copy today.
I raced through this book over last week’s snowy weekend, and can’t stop thinking about it and its characters long after finishing it. I was whisked away to Hoboken with Ellen and felt like I was right there beside her as she travelled back to the Gower peninsula and witnessed the ripples that go right through her family as if I was a member of it myself. I loved the way we are able to meet the struggling members of her family and see what they are going through and feel her connections to them, even as she is feeling the pull to move out away and beyond her roots – which makes the decision she is faced with even more difficult to bear witness to.
Advent is an evocative, beautiful and pitch perfect rendering of the push and pull of home that I can really identify with. I strongly connected with Chris Guthrie from Scottish novel ‘Sunset Song’ and feel that Advent capptures the same sense of inner conflict wonderfully. The beauty of the writing and the strength of the characterisation are in perfect harmony throughout the novel and rendered me almost speechless at times as I felt that some scenes were just so poignantly and perfectly captured. Ellen is such a compelling character and her struggles with these feelings that she struggles with internally feel a million miles away from today’s culture of open empathy and ‘it’s good to talk’
Ellen has to deal with the feeling of being so connected with her homeland yet possessed by a fierce yearning to explore new opportunities and excitement on the horizons beond Wales in the New World and everything that this entails. It ncapsulates the Welsh word ‘hireath’ perfectly – the intense longing for your home of the past, that has to remain there and yet you can never return to. It is totally heartbreaking to see the impact of this inner conflict on Ellen herself, but it is all the more poignant to see the struggles of her family to understand her situation and realise that there are freedoms in Hoboken that Ellen knows she will have to surrender if she stays at home – and relationships and connections that se know will have to be severed if she makes the decision to return.
Advent captured my heart and let me feel like I’d spent real time with its characters, feeling their emotions and walking a mile in their shoes and this book goes one step further in making me feel like I’d lived these experiences as I read. I empathised with Ellen’s paralysis and guilt, feeling like whatever decision she made there was no way to have everything that she wanted and no solution that did not mean that she was having to give things up that even the thought of was absolutely unbearable. Jane Fraser’s sensitivity to the culture and the landscape she is describing is perhaps what reminded me of Sunset Song and in this time of lockdown it’s given me an overwhelming urge to explore the beauty of the Gowr for myslf one day and walk a mile in Ellen’s footsteps thining of all that she would be leaving behind if she chose to return to America.
Advent is a beautifully rendered portrait of emigration and the longing for home that paints a vivid picture of the way that our choices are never as simple as just the choice between staying and going. I haven’t been this emotional about a novel for a long time – the last time it was this powerful was when I read Shuggie Bain and I know that this book will definitely stay with me for just as long due to its beauty, its anguish and its refusal to gloss over the genuine pain that thousands of emigrants had to face and live with. If you don’t have at least a lump in your throat at some point when reading this novel, check that you don’t actually have a heart of stone because some moments described here are far far to difficult to bear…I’d like to thank Anne Cater for the blog tour invite and can’t wait to see what Jane Fraser does next – buy yourself a copy here but stock up on some tissues first, you have been warned…
Writer On The Shelf
Jane Fraser Her debut novel, Advent , is published by Honno, the UK’s longest-standing, independent women’s press, in January 2021. Her first collection of short fiction, The South Westerlies was published by Salt, the UK’s foremost independent publisher of literary fiction, in 2019.
You can follow the author on Twitter at @jfraserwriter