Emma Hooper – Our Homesick Songs (4 stars)

Emma Hooper – Our Homesick Songs

What happens to a small coastal community when its lifeblood disappears

Following on from her debut novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, Emma Hooper's second offering returns to a province in Canada, this time to a small rural fishing town in Newfoundland. The novel centres on the Connor family in two different eras: depicting life in the late 60s and 70s for a young version of the mother and father, Aidan and Martha; and in the 90s, now that they have two kids of their own, Cora and Finn.

Set amongst the backdrop of the Atlantic northwest cod fishery collapsing, we are shown glimpses of a prosperous fishing past in the older fragments compared to the fish-less reality of the children's life. The town's residents start to move away in search of work, including the parents taking turns to work away: the town becomes empty and the two children find themselves the only youngsters left. Cora wishes she could be somewhere else and Finn takes it in to his own hands to try and bring back both the people and the fish.

Through the eradication of speech marks and with the ease that Hooper flips from the 60s and 70s to the 90s, the prose flows like the waves it recounts: back and forth seamlessly. Difficult subjects like infidelity and a child running away are touched on matter-of-factly and, mixed with the subject matter, they are presented sympathetically. Hooper's prose style is elegant and musical – most likely influenced by her parallel career as a musician – and the traditional songs and instruments woven into the story nod to a past that will never come again. Ultimately the book is a rather sombre, yet also resolute and sanguine representation of the everyday effects that unsustainable environmental practices have had on small communities.

Out Thu 7 Jun (Fig Tree).

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