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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent Northern novel, 23 Feb 2004
By 
A. Craig "Amanda Craig" (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Turn Again Home (Hardcover)
I read this novel a few months ago, and find it has stayed in my mind as a particularly good one - a Northern working-class family saga written with great compassion. Essentially it traces the rise of the Holloway family, from drudging servitude at the turn of the 20th century to high-flying (literally) academia. Their sufferings,loves, and experience of war and work all depicted with a sure grasp of detail. As good in its way as Frantzen's debut, though it won't get any of the hype.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely Absorbing, 9 Jan 2012
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Turn Again Home (Paperback)
An engrossing story of a Manchester working-class family over three generations. Bessie and Sam Holloway marry in the 1920s, and set up house in Gorton, Manchester. Bessie is a former domestic servant, an orphan who never bonded with her foster family and spends her whole life both longing for love and suspicious of others. Sam, a gentle and reflective man, is the son of a headmaster of a small country school in the Lake District (Birch describes the headmaster's house most beautifully). Sam is highly intelligent, but has been severely traumatized in World War I; he is unable to hold down a job, and so Bessie becomes the bread-winner, working as a cleaner, while Sam rears the children and sees to the family's domestic life. Their children Violet (daughter of Sam's first marriage), Nell and Bob grow up in fairly cheerful poverty, punctuated with idyllic visits to their paternal grandparents, blazing rows between their parents and the drama of Sam's sister Bennet, a former music hall artist who eventually marries an actor-turned knife grinder and meets a dramatic end. The three Holloway children reach adulthood at the beginning of World War II. Violet marries a neighbour and sets up house close to the rest of the family; Nell, after various luckless adventures in love, marries Harry Caplin, one of her work colleagues and a brilliant jazz trombonist and amateur artist, and has three children: Jack, Georgia and Joanne. And Bob, the youngest and the adored only son of the family, ends up fighting in Malaya at the end of World War II, an experience which (like World War I for Sam) will leave him emotionally shattered. With the arrival of plenteous grammar school education and a greater prosperity following World War II the third generation of Holloways move slowly from the working to the middle classes - particularly Jack, who reads Classics at Durham and becomes a high-flying academic, based in Rome. But, as he realizes after the deaths of his parents, he will always feel a tie with Manchester and his past.

I enjoyed this book hugely. Birch brought the city of Manchester over a long period (from about 1918 to the 1980s) brilliantly to life. There was much fascinating historical information, and none of the temptation to sensationalism that I found rather spoiled Kate Atkinson's 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' (another tale of a Northern family, that got much more hype than this one). The characters, though few were straightforwardly likeable, were all interesting, and one found oneself caring a lot what happened to them. I was particularly interested in Harry, the almost-professional jazz trombonist (virtually self-taught) and skilled artist who never had the money for formal training but still did superbly well; he reminded me of stories I'd heard about my paternal grandfather (though he was a classical musician rather than a jazz musician), another intelligent man frustrated by lack of money. The material on the jazz scene in Manchester and around was very interesting indeed. The scenes in Malaya were also very well researched, and Bob's adventures (though often painful to read about) very engrossing; his affair with the pretty Malayan girl Jenny Lim was touchingly portrayed. Although I felt less warm to Nell, I felt sympathy with her in her love of animals and desire to create a cosy home, with lots of books, cats and dogs.

My one regret is that Birch didn't write more about Jack's experiences at university and in academe; it would have been very interesting to read about how Jack found life at Durham University compared to home. A lot of people of Jack's generation (both my parents were like this) moved from working class families into academic and intellectual careers through good education, and found it both exciting and an enormous change of life and it's an interesting subject, that I wish Birch had explored a bit more. But this was really my only main criticism of what was a very well-written and hugely enjoyable read. I've now ordered most of Birch's other books and am looking forward to them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Absorbing Story of Three Generations of One Family., 9 Nov 2011
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Turn Again Home (Paperback)
Firstly, I should say that big family sagas are not always my favourite kind of read and, therefore, if I hadn't seen this author's latest novel (Jamrach's Menagerie)first, I might not have ordered this - and that would have been my loss.

I read in one of the broadsheet papers that Carol Birch's `Turn Again Home' is considered to be her `break out book' - meaning the author, whose previous work is acknowledged to have an idiosyncratic flavour all of its own, wrote `Turn Again Home' in order to reach a wider reading public. Whether this was the author's true intention, I do not know, but what I do know is that this book is a wonderful mix of northern working class life and suburban bohemia including love, war, marriage,happiness, sorrow, life and death, all shot through with an intelligent and ironic humour.

Such a lot happens in this book that it is difficult to summarise the story in a short review and, because of the nature of a novel like this, there is no real plot as such to speak of - but a book like this doesn't need one. It is a wonderful family story, starting in the 1930s and covering three generations of the extended Holloway family, full of life and peopled with a large cast of colourful characters.

There are some very funny stories and incidents in this novel and, of course, some very sad ones too. However, although there are many amusing tales and some rather odd characters, Carol Birch does not turn them into Northern parodies or clichés, and she seems to do this by really getting under the skin of her characters and infusing them with life; she invites us to laugh along with the Holloway family and not at them.

This was an engrossing and entertaining read, long in length and large in scope, and a book to pass on to the rest of the family when you have finished reading it. Recommended.

4 Stars.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully written and surprisingly moving, 12 Oct 2003
By 
This review is from: Turn Again Home (Hardcover)
The themes and the plot of this novel may not be astonishingly original on their own, but Birch's incredible, believable style is engrossing and riveting. Her characterization is exemplary, as is her attention to detail in chronicling setting and expository plot elements. I rarely cry at the ends of books the way I do with films -- many times, that's simply because the author just has not done a very good job of convincing you of the reality of his/her plot or characters -- but I cried at the end of this book. One of the best books I have read in a very long time...
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Turn Again Home
Turn Again Home by Carol Birch (Paperback - 6 May 2004)
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