Susan Conley’s Elsey Come Home is the peculiar and utterly uncomplicated story of an American woman’s life as an expat in China attempting to save her marriage and her family from both alcoholism and apathy.
Elsey is reminiscing on a pivotal year of her life from an older and wiser unknown future. When her husband handed her a brochure for a week’s solitary getaway in the mountains of China, she knew he was communicating that something had to change. Elsey struggled with life as a mother – the disparity between her former career as a successful painter and the quiet and constant pull of being needed by her children was stifling.
Elsey found comfort in winding down and drinking once the girls went to bed, which led to drinking while the girls weren’t in bed, which finally led to sneaking out of the house to buy alcohol and leaving the girls home alone. In going on this week-long retreat, Elsey was committing to bettering herself and being more present in her marriage and with her children.
Elsey meets a cast of fascinating characters in the mountains of China, but is it enough to save her marriage? Conley’s simplistic and straightforward writing takes us on a unique journey through Elsey’s past, as seen through her own eyes.
Please take caution while reading Elsey Come Home if any of the following topics may trigger you:
Elsey Come Home has got to be one of the most peculiar novels I’ve read to date. Conley’s writing is bemusing at times, but is not altogether unpleasant. It is extremely sparse, with almost no descriptions of people and places, but is still able to distill a sense of the Chinese mountains and Elsey’s life as an expat.
The story starts slowly and without clear intention, and the writing takes a while to get comfortable with. As Elsey begins to meet her fellow retreat guests, the story and its significance start to become more clear. I loved meeting and getting to know the others at the retreat and found the ways that Conley was able to share significant information about each person with almost no descriptions uncanny.
Elsey’s relationships with others is the core of this book, and she describes these relationships painfully honestly, as if she’s writing a diary after the fact or discussing the past year with her therapist. She has wisdom as she’s telling the story that she didn’t have in the moment and analyzes her own past decisions. This adds unique depth and understanding to the story.
Overall, I did enjoy Elsey Come Home. She reminded me somewhat of Eleanor Oliphant – both needing significant outside assistance in order to create meaningful relationships, and writing for only themselves and with complete honesty – not to or for an outside individual. However, the lack of detail and the unique writing were difficult to feel comfortable with and, in my opinion, were mild detractors from the already odd format of the story.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on Elsey Come Home. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram @bookmarkedbya.