by Christine Hinwood
April 11, 2011
Borrowed from Library
Synopsis from Publisher: An intense story of love, loss and turmoil in the aftermath of war. A first novel by a uniquely talented author.
Vivid, compassionate and totally absorbing, The Returning follows the fortunes of young Cam Attling and all those whose fates entwine with his.
Cam has a hunger, an always-hunger; it drives him from home, to war, from north to south. When he returns from war alone - all his fellow soldiers slain - suspicion swirls around him. He's damaged in body and soul, yet he rides a fine horse and speaks well of his foes. What has he witnessed? Where does his true allegiance lie? How will life unfold for his little sister, his closest friend, his betrothed, his community, and even the enemy Lord who maimed him?
With extraordinary insight and literary skill, Hinwood weaves their stories to create a tale of romance, adventure and everyday life in croft and manor house and castle. Her style is unique. Her characters will hijack your heart.
This is an odd little book. It started out very slowly, and for the first hundred pages or so, I kept thinking “yeah, I’m going to go read something else...after the next few pages.” But I didn’t; I kept reading and suddenly I looked down to find that there were only twenty pages yet, but I really didn’t want the book to end. The last chapter is absolutely beautiful.
I’ve seen the words ‘heartbreakingly beautiful” applied to The Returning. It’d be nice if I hadn’t seen them because then I could use them without feeling completely derivative. They’re truly accurate. Ever since I finished the last page, I’ve found myself being haunted by the characters, words, and descriptions.
There’s no one overarching plot here. It’s mostly a meditation on how people react to the end of a war. How people come home from war changed and try their best to fit back into society. This isn’t a book to read with half your attention because the point of view changes from character to character rather abruptly. Some of the characters had never been introduced before which makes the switches mildly confusing, but the writing and complex characters draw you into their stories with little difficulty.
I loved Cam, the character who is doing ‘the returning,’ but my two favourite were the two women in his life - his betrothed, Graceful, and his little sister Pin. Both find their lives unsettled by Cam’s return and struggle to adjust themselves to the way their society has changed after the long war. Graceful, in particular, is an intriguing character. She’s not terribly charismatic or likeable at first, but she’s always a presence.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone. If you need a plot with a lot of action to stay focused (and often I do so no shame there), you may not find The Returning of interest. But if you’re in the mood for something meditative with beautiful language, check it out for sure.
And holy crap, the cover is beautiful.