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Book Review: Home by Karen Dionne

Helena is driving home from the lake with her youngest daughter when a report comes on the radio that she never hoped to hear. Now in order to protect everything she has, she needs to return to a place she thought she’d long left behind her.

You’d recognise my mother’s name if I told it to you. You’d wonder, briefly, where is she now? And didn’t she have a daughter while she was missing?
And whatever happened to the little girl?

Helena’s home is like anyone else’s, with a husband, two daughters and a job she enjoys. But no one knows the truth about her dark and twisted childhood.

Born into captivity and brought up in an isolated cabin until she was twelve, Helena was raised by her terrified, broken mother and the man who held them both prisoner – Helena’s own father.

Now with news that he has escaped from prison, Helena instinctively knows that her father is coming for her and if she wants to keep her family safe, she must find him – before he finds her. Even if that means returning to the darkest parts of her past, the scariest place imaginable, home.

Extracts from a translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Marsh King’s Daughter are included throughout Karen Dionne’s novel, Home, which was originally published in hardback under the same title as the fairytale. It slots in well around Helena’s story in Home (whose early years were certainly no fairytale) and serves as a useful reminder of how dark and brutal fairytales actually were before we became more used to their sanitised versions.

Without the inclusion of Andersen’s tale, I might not have seen Helena’s present-day semblance of normality as the ‘happily ever after’ she’s worked so hard to provide for her and her family. Something that eluded her own mother after life in the marsh. I could rue the secrecy surrounding her past that now backfires, while also realising that it was a way of protecting not only Helena but also her husband and children from it. She’s determined that her daughters enjoy freedoms she never realised existed, and is vehement in her defence of these.

Where Helena sometimes seems detached in the present-day scenes, it’s not difficult to surmise that this stems from those early years in captivity and how she was brought up. A part of her is still the child who loves her father inside a grown woman who knows what he did was wrong. Outwardly, Helena appears to have assimilated into normal life but her need to leave her family and go off hunting wolves on her own every so often seems an anomaly; a hangover from those early years spent in the marshes.

It’s this conflict within her and those very wilderness skills she learned from her father that now come to the fore as she sets out to play one last ‘tracking game’. And this is where Home is at its best. There’s a real sense of danger: a level of jeopardy more akin to big game hunting than a cat and mouse game.

Karen Dionne sets captor and captive back on familiar territory and here lets us track them to a place that’s brutal and surprising, taut yet haunting and full of conflicting emotions: Home.

Home by Karen Dionne is published by Sphere, a Little, Brown imprint. It is available as an audiobook, ebook, in hardback (where it was published as The Marsh King’s Daughter) and in paperback. You can buy it from Amazon UK or from Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop. You can find out more about the author and her writing on her Author Website or follow her on Twitter.

My thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy through the Amazon Vine programme.

*GIVEAWAY* I have two paperback copies of Home to give away. Leave a comment below and the squirrels will pick two winners.

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