Elsey Come Home by Susan Conley

Elsey Come Home

Susan Conley

Written in a voice at once wry, sensual, blunt, and hypnotic, Elsey Come Home is a modern odyssey and a quietly dynamic portrait of contemporary womanhood.

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“I loved, loved this novel” —Lily King             “What more can I say—perfect” —Judy Blume

“In this intricate, delicate-as-rice-paper novel, an American painter living in Beijing and trying to clean up her act at a yoga retreat makes gains in fits and starts, ‘a butterfly, flitting from leaf to leaf.’”O Magazine

From the widely praised author of Paris Was the Place—a shattering new novel that bravely delves into the darkest corners of addiction, marriage, and motherhood

When Elsey’s husband, Lukas, hands her a brochure for a weeklong mountain retreat, she knows he is really giving her an ultimatum: Go, or we’re done. Once a successful painter, Elsey set down roots in China after falling passionately for Lukas, the tall, Danish MC at a warehouse rave in downtown Beijing. Now, with two young daughters and unable to find a balance between her identities as painter, mother, and, especially, wife, Elsey fills her days worrying, drinking, and descending into desperate unhappiness. So, brochure in hand, she agrees to go and confront the ghosts of her past. There, she meets a group of men and women who will forever alter the way she understands herself: from Tasmin, another (much richer) expat, to Hunter, a young man whose courage endangers them all, and, most important, Mei--wife of one of China’s most famous artists and a renowned painter herself--with whom Elsey quickly forges a fierce friendship and whose candidness about her pain helps Elsey understand her own. But Elsey must risk tearing herself and Lukas further apart when she decides she must return to her childhood home--the center of her deepest pain--before she can find her way back to him. Written in a voice at once wry, sensual, blunt, and hypnotic, Elsey Come Home is a modern odyssey and a quietly dynamic portrait of contemporary womanhood.

Advance Galley Reviews

A rather slow paced book to me. I didn't overtly enjoy reading it and had to struggle through finishing it.

Fantastic, original held me captive from the start. I would recommend to all Fiction, and Woman Fiction, all will enjoy as I did.

I found this book quite boring and slow. I’m sure if I was a mother I would be able to connect more with her troubles finding a balance between family and work. But I just found her lazy and unwilling to try. There were a lot of characters to keep track of and the setting kept bouncing around. There was just too much going on and Elsey was unwilling to work on any of her problems until she absolutely had to which frustrated me. Yet, for some reason I found myself rooting for her…not sure what it was about her but because of that I gave it a slight bump in my review. 3 Stars

I loved it!

Elsey Come Home by Susan Conley is the journey of a woman struggling with addiction. In some ways, the book begins with the ending. The rest of the book is further definition how Elsey gets there. This book confuses me. Too many characters. Too many time periods. Too many details. And yet, at the same time, not enough to pull me in emotionally. Sadly, I find myself unable to follow and unable to be the reader for this book. Read my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2019/01/elsey-come-home.html Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

I felt this novel was a realistic look at a woman who hasn't dealt with her pain. Elsey is an unreliable narrator dealing with the pain of losing her sister Margaret which has spiraled her into the path of alcoholism and blatant unhappiness. Many years after Margaret's death, the guilt still impedes Elsey in her life as an mother, wife, and artist. Elsey is basically forced by her husband to clean up her act or else by attending a yoga retreat. Thus begins a journey of connecting with others and facing the past.

In reading this book, I felt as if I was reading a memoir of a real woman's life. One that was dealing with grief and trauma, motherhood, and using alcohol to not deal with any of it. The short chapters and almost essay format made the book a quick read and one that felt very enjoyable from beginning to end. I appreciated the way that Elsey never really tried to position herself as a likable character, but more as one that had similar struggles to many other women who may struggle with the decision of being a mother as well as the struggles of raising the children after you have made the decision to be a mother.

I received an advanced copy of this book from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. The premise of this book sounded intriguing. It was very difficult to get into the story, though. It was slow moving and seemed disjointed at parts since it's written stream of conscious. That said, I'm glad I stuck with it and finished the story.

Unfortunately, this book wasn't for me. Perhaps it was the point of the story, but I feel her alcoholism was glossed over quite a bit in exchange for deep introspection and inner self-awareness, all of which seemed counterproductive to the story. For me, it made sense that there was a strong focus on the other characters, as it's easier to judge others than to judge ourselves and I actually really loved the children. They were written in such a realistic way instead of just giving them a place in the story meant only to bolster the main character. However, and I say this with very little experience with addiction, it seemed far-fetched that a week-long yoga retreat was enough to eventually set Elsey on the alcohol-free path. The story did pick up towards the end and I found I did want to finish and see what happened, but it wasn't enough to save the book for me.

I loved this novel, would recommend to friends.

Thanks to FTR and the publisher for an ARC of the book. This book is a story of Elsey, a mother who is losing herself and needs to come to terms with her present reality, and about her marriage and how it has changed her after she has her children. For the longest time I struggled with a review for this book. I am also a mother who had struggles with career and mild post natal depression. I learnt a lot about China, its present atmosphere especially for a foreigner and by learning about Elsey's struggles, I learnt about my own feelings and introspected on my life. It is that kind of a slow romance of a book with no big event and a suspenseful climax, but a take on being a parent and learning be a person at the same time. 4 stars!

I so wanted to like this book more. Rather than being a satisfying quest narrative, a majority of the novel was spent on characters and plotlines that lacked definition and felt listless. While the book became more interesting towards the end, the change in tone made the conclusion too emotionally pat and unsatisfying. It was simply incredible that the MC came to terms with her younger sister's death in one page, particularly since it was this unresolved event that formed the basis of her alcoholism and emotional dishonesty.

This was okay. The book kept my interest (for the most part), but I felt very detached from the story and characters. I agree with another reviewer that there was too much focus on side characters. The book is fairly easy to get through, but it's not very memorable.

This book was hard to get into. It took a long time to sort out what was happening; it is all so disjointed, I did read the whole book and I am glad I did. I think it was so disjointed because that is how her brain was while an alcoholic and how recovery felt as well. All in all a good read!

Several elements of Elsey Come Home mirror Conley's memoir The Foremost Good Fortune; Conley's experience living in China with cancer clearly inspired some of this novel. However, the novel lacks focus and vacillates between several subplots and themes including addiction, marriage and parenthood, Elsey's friendship with a Chinese woman she meets at a retreat, her career as a painter, and her childhood memories. The inclusion of so many subplots weakens all of them; I would have preferred more detail on one or two major plot lines. Most of Elsey's relationships seem unformed since there is little background for them, and the struggles that lead Elsey to alcoholism make her character seem somewhat unformed as well. The tense of the book is also problematic as it is written in the past tense from some future point that is never identified (i.e. "back then I used to...") and this distracted me and undermined my attempts to stay immersed in the story. The book also crosses many settings, zigzagging between China and the United States. One setting in particular, a Chinese mountain retreat, is populated with too many characters to keep straight, but there are some amusing and quirky characters there all the same. All in all, there were interesting elements to the story and Elsey is easy to sympathize with if not easily understood.

It was okay. The blurb sounded interesting and I wanted to try something new but it never really hooked me. Elsey is feeling very lost and we follow her as she slowly floats back into stability. The book moved slow, which is realistic for what Elsey was going through but I just never connected with any of the characters enough to care about the story. I think I might if I read this in another 20 years but at 27 I just didn't get Elsey's state of mind.

Unfortunately, this book was just not for me. I never connected with the main character. Coming from a family with addiction problems, I felt like the issue was not fully addressed at any point in the story. I also found the back and forth between past and present very confusing, with nothing to distinguish between the two. Sadly, this just did not live up to my expectations. I received an advanced copy from First To Read in exchange for an honest review.

This novel wasn't at all what I anticipated. It was beautifully written and in places, it felt lyrical in other spots it was frantic and yet in others, it stopped and moved very slowly. It took me about a quarter of the book to feel like I understood what was happening. I almost stopped reading early on because I didn't know where we were going and I was feeling too distant and disconnected from Elsey, the protagonist. I was sort of wrong and I'm glad I kept going. I think the early part of this book Elsey is disconnected and so I couldn't understand her because she was too distant from herself to offer a connection when reading her in first person. But when I looked up, when Elsey started reflecting a little ways in, I realized I was truly immersed in Elsey's head and I was thankful for the early part of the book because it set the groundwork. I didn't realize that this book was about Elsey's alcoholism until halfway through because again I don't think Elsey realized that this was an account of her alcoholism until then either. (Although, I don't want to pigeonhole the book into being about one thing - alcoholism - because it's about a full person's life which included a struggle with alcohol) The parts of this book that were the most potent were the parts where Elsey repeated her patterns even while she tried to change them - even when she didn't acknowledge this was what she was doing and when she hit a point where she broke those patterns because she had to I was there fully with her. This was a beautiful book about a woman figuring herself out and I appreciated being there for all the complexities along the way. Also, as a side note, I like how the author acknowledged, I think, through Elsey her own inability to comment for the people of China and her privilege. This diluted the trope of a foreigner coming to an "exotic" place and claiming that place as theirs to use for healing or to use as a backdrop for their own savior narrative. I think it's clear that this was on Susan Coley's mind as she wrote and from my own position, I think her perspective hit the right note. I received an advanced copy of this book for free in return for my honest review.

I picked this book to read on a bit of a whim. Imagine my surprise, I could not wait to see what happened next. The style is almost stream of consciousness, the main character goes from one topic to the next even in one sentence. But isn’t that how we really think? It was a little bit up and down emotionally but the ending was hopeful.

Kind of all over the place but a quick and decent read


More to Explore

  • Paris Was the Place
  • The Foremost Good Fortune

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