Book Review: Neverhome by Laird Hunt

neverhomeAn extraordinary novel about a wife who disguises herself as a man and goes off to fight in the Civil War.

She calls herself Ash, but that’s not her real name. She is a farmer’s faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. Neverhome tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.

Laird Hunt’s dazzling new novel throws a light on the adventurous women who chose to fight instead of stay behind. It is also a mystery story: why did Ash leave and her husband stay? Why can she not return? What will she have to go through to make it back home?

In gorgeous prose, Hunt’s rebellious young heroine fights her way through history, and back home to her husband, and finally into our hearts

Received from Netgalley in exchange for a review. Author’s website can be found here

The book is told in the voice of Constance “Gallant Ash” Thompson who goes to fight in the Civil War dressed as a man, leaving her husband back on their farm. It’s not a history of the War per se, with Ash taking part in few large set pieces. However it’s a very personal war, where you hear of the skirmishes that Ash does take part in: The killings (Ash does plenty herself and partway through it has become second nature and almost irrelevant to her), the kidnappings, the deaths, the continuous marching and near-starvation (so the troop often have to rely on Ash’s sniper ability to kill squirrels). Meanwhile Ash tells her story of the husband she left behind, writing letters, whilst occasionally having conversations in her head with her long dead mother.

Finally Ash gets to go home to her husband and her farm, and finding everything – including herself – has changed, and not all for the better.   The language used is simple and uncomplicated, as befitting a farmer’s wife who has spent more time with the land than on any schooling. There’s little dialogue for much of the book, with information most commonly imparted as Ash looks back on the day. It’s not for the faint of heart, yes war is ugly, and little is hidden in this book.

Laird Hunt manages to pull off a book about a little known part of war, where apparently ~400 women disguised themselves s men to take part in the battles. Constance is in no way a Scarlett O’Hara – the latter using all her traits as a woman to get what she wants, where as Constance decides to be a man to get what she thinks she wants.

 

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