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Elsey Come Home

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Elsey Come Home

  1. 5 out of 5

    Britta Böhler

    Not a terrible book but, how can I put it, a bit... boring.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Susan Conley’s Elsey Come Home revolves around alcoholism, marriage, and motherhood. Maine-born and -bred Elsey lives in Beijing with Lukas, her Danish electronic musician husband and their two young daughters. Elsey tells us that ”. . . I didn’t know how to be in a marriage. A real marriage. I’m not sure he did, either.” Once a commercially successful artist represented by no less than Saatchi, Elsey has stopped painting. Her recovery from thyroid surgery and her recurring arm pain sap her ener Susan Conley’s Elsey Come Home revolves around alcoholism, marriage, and motherhood. Maine-born and -bred Elsey lives in Beijing with Lukas, her Danish electronic musician husband and their two young daughters. Elsey tells us that ”. . . I didn’t know how to be in a marriage. A real marriage. I’m not sure he did, either.” Once a commercially successful artist represented by no less than Saatchi, Elsey has stopped painting. Her recovery from thyroid surgery and her recurring arm pain sap her energy, leaving her unable to paint and with limited attention for her daughters. She seeks solace and obliteration in alcohol. Hoping to jolt Elsey out of her downward self-destructive cycle and to remove her from easy access to alcohol, her husband gives her a week’s yoga retreat in Shashan, a remote village. Elsey’s reluctant to go, but ”she felt it was crucial and that things in. . . [her] marriage were at stake”. Despite her disdain for the predictable rituals of the retreat—the talking circle, the day of silence—it helps to generate in Elsey the wherewithal and resolve eventually to right herself. Elsey Come Home feels heartfelt and ultimately optimistic: Conley’s Elsey is its most understandable and convincing character. Three stars. I would like to thank NetGalley and Alfred A. Knopf for providing me with an e-copy of Elsey Come Home in exchange for a review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    There's something about Elsey you're bound to like. She's vulnerable and open, wry and perceptive, refreshingly blunt and self-deprecating-but most of all, she's hurting up a storm. When we first meet her, she is about to venture forth on a week-long mountain retreat, a chance for participants to reinvent themselves. It's a veiled ultimatum from her husband Lucas, who is almost at the end of his rope from her drinking issues. Elsey's fear is that if she goes, she and Lucas may never find each oth There's something about Elsey you're bound to like. She's vulnerable and open, wry and perceptive, refreshingly blunt and self-deprecating-but most of all, she's hurting up a storm. When we first meet her, she is about to venture forth on a week-long mountain retreat, a chance for participants to reinvent themselves. It's a veiled ultimatum from her husband Lucas, who is almost at the end of his rope from her drinking issues. Elsey's fear is that if she goes, she and Lucas may never find each other again. Elsey Come Home is a sparse novel narrated by a character with a straightforward yet hypnotic voice, who doesn't shy away from confessing that she's at an important life juncture. As a mother who isn't quite sure how to parent, a painter who may be losing her muse, a wife who loves her husband but keeps disappointing him, and most of all, an addict who can't quite face that alcohol is taking over her life, Elsey needs fixing fast. What elevates this novel-other than the spot-on voice-is Susan Conley's fine ability to sketch and then fill in characters that could easily leap from the page into one's living room. Elsey and her retreat companions, including the famous painter Mei, the affluent ex-patriot Tasmin, and the bravado scion Hunter bond together organically and their experience is treated with understanding and respect. Elsey's internal and external journeys during the course of the book are composed of gradual realizations that are the pillars of ongoing growth. Elsey couldn't help but remind me of a new friend I instantly like because of her willingness to be her authentic self-the good, the bad, and the ugly. There's not a false note. 4.5 stars.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie Brody

    Elsey is a woman who is fearful of intimacy and goes so far as to lie or dissociate rather than deal with her emotions. She was once a fairly well-known and respected artist who sold her work regularly. However, after marrying Lukas and having children, she feels like she can't be both a mother and an artist. Instead, she drinks....and then drinks some more. Lukas is beside himself, as the children have grown frightened and often neglected. He strongly suggests that Elsey go on a retreat to Shas Elsey is a woman who is fearful of intimacy and goes so far as to lie or dissociate rather than deal with her emotions. She was once a fairly well-known and respected artist who sold her work regularly. However, after marrying Lukas and having children, she feels like she can't be both a mother and an artist. Instead, she drinks....and then drinks some more. Lukas is beside himself, as the children have grown frightened and often neglected. He strongly suggests that Elsey go on a retreat to Shashan to help find herself and, in Elsey's mind, to become sober. Currently, they are living in China because Lukas is a musician and his electronic music is very popular there. He has tried to reach out to Elsey in every way possible but he is unable to reach her, really reach her. There marriage is at stake and Lukas hopes this retreat will help save it. In Shashan, a mountain retreat where she goes for one week, Elsey practices yoga, meditation, and silence. She participates in a talking circle. Most importantly, she meets people with whom she can connect. Others trust her with their secrets but can Elsey trust them with hers. She becomes involved in the lives of some of the other participants and realizes that she has been closed off to her own feeling since the death of her sister Margaret when Elsey was a child. In many ways, Elsey feels responsible for Margaret's death because she was unable to save her from her illness. I found the characters fairly two-dimensional without any great depth. The story is told in first person from Elsey's perspective and her journal notes. The chapters are truncated and some don't seem to go anywhere. I wished for a richer narrative that let me access the depths of Elsey's emotions and personal growth.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    She’s a wife, a mother, an artist who doesn’t believe in herself. When her husband Lukas tells her about a retreat called Shashan, she leaves her family for a week of rediscovering herself, waiting for that moment when she is “fixed” from her demons. Here’s an excerpt that really struck me: “I worked hard then to remember Lukas loved me and my girls loved me and that I wasn’t being punished. I was being helped. I stayed caught between being weak and being helped and in this way Shashan called on She’s a wife, a mother, an artist who doesn’t believe in herself. When her husband Lukas tells her about a retreat called Shashan, she leaves her family for a week of rediscovering herself, waiting for that moment when she is “fixed” from her demons. Here’s an excerpt that really struck me: “I worked hard then to remember Lukas loved me and my girls loved me and that I wasn’t being punished. I was being helped. I stayed caught between being weak and being helped and in this way Shashan called on me to clarify something about myself. Did I love myself or hate myself? Until I met Lukas, I didn’t know there were people who liked themselves even with the damage they carried…” This is a story about choices we make, addictions we carry and how we can forgive ourselves our past and try to move on. Elsey's attention to detail and storytelling is rich. You really get an understanding of what she is going through. However, I think that addiction has an impact on her own memory because throughout the book, I realized that Elsey wasn't being honest with herself. That's how well her addiction is written in the book. It even effects her storytelling. This book is the inside and the outside look of Elsey's life and the impact her actions have on her and her own family. It was beautifully written and I really recommend it. Thank you to aaknopf for my copy, I received this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cherise Wolas

    Elsey is not fully inhabiting her life or her skin. She's American, from Maine, and living in Beijing with her husband Lukas, a successful electronic music composer and DJ, and their two young daughters, Myla and Elisabeth. Once a successful painter, we are dropped into her world as she's grappling or not grappling with her drinking problem, her unresolved grief over the loss of her younger sister in childhood, and her husband's desire to fix their marriage. Seemingly always quiet, she has gone Elsey is not fully inhabiting her life or her skin. She's American, from Maine, and living in Beijing with her husband Lukas, a successful electronic music composer and DJ, and their two young daughters, Myla and Elisabeth. Once a successful painter, we are dropped into her world as she's grappling or not grappling with her drinking problem, her unresolved grief over the loss of her younger sister in childhood, and her husband's desire to fix their marriage. Seemingly always quiet, she has gone quieter, and has distanced herself from her family. She's a cypher in many ways, despite what we learn about her, and she never completely came into focus for me. She doubts her ability to mother (not helped by her drinking) and has lost that touchstone of painting which defined her. The novel is organized around her week-long stay at a mountain retreat -yoga, silence, walking along the Great Wall of China - that her husband insisted she attend. We learn about the people at the retreat as she tells her story to an unknown person, and from a distant future point. The title seems to mean come home to family, come home to her husband, come home to herself. Throughout this quiet novel, we learn about a past love in Ireland, a bit about the death of her sister, her childhood, what it was like to be immersed in her painting, and in her drinking. Lovely prose, engaging and very ephemeral, as if all these hard aspects of her life are happening in a dream.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paltia

    Elsey is a woman who, at first, thinks she can keep running away from herself. She gives up her art where all her emotions were expressed to try and be a mother. Essentially this is about unresolved grief, if grief ever resolved. More accurately it is about unexpressed grief. She feels she is neither wife nor mother and tries to find solace in alcohol. While at a retreat she becomes acquainted with an artist, Mei. Mei so different from Elsey yet they click. This is a novel about introspection. E Elsey is a woman who, at first, thinks she can keep running away from herself. She gives up her art where all her emotions were expressed to try and be a mother. Essentially this is about unresolved grief, if grief ever resolved. More accurately it is about unexpressed grief. She feels she is neither wife nor mother and tries to find solace in alcohol. While at a retreat she becomes acquainted with an artist, Mei. Mei so different from Elsey yet they click. This is a novel about introspection. Elsey expresses her thoughts so honestly it can hurt. The pace felt just right until she returns from the retreat. Suddenly the world is whirling around everyone. By the end of the story Ms. Conley magically slows the reader down again until you gracefully shed a tear and smile at the ending.

  8. 4 out of 5

    BookGypsy

    Once a successful painter, Elsey can't find the joy she once felt in life. Married with two children, Elsey drowns herself in alcohol and can't find her place as artist, wife and mother. When her husband gives her a brochure for a mountain retreat she knows she has to go. Once at the retreat Elsey meets people and finally understands what she has to do to find happiness. A really great story. Multi layered plot. I really enjoyed this. I was give a copy from the publisher for my honest review. Dawn Once a successful painter, Elsey can't find the joy she once felt in life. Married with two children, Elsey drowns herself in alcohol and can't find her place as artist, wife and mother. When her husband gives her a brochure for a mountain retreat she knows she has to go. Once at the retreat Elsey meets people and finally understands what she has to do to find happiness. A really great story. Multi layered plot. I really enjoyed this. I was give a copy from the publisher for my honest review. Dawn Ruby-BookGypsy Novels N Latte Book Blog Novels & Latte Book Club Hudson Valley NY

  9. 4 out of 5

    Isabel Blakefield

    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 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.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jmm

    This spunky and surprising book is a meditation on motherhood—what it gives and what it can take. Why we put it off and also why we embrace it. Which broken parts inside of us it can heal and which it never can. In meditating on this singular and yet nearly universal experience—in settings Conley makes familiar even when they aren’t (to this reader anyway)—this lyrical novelist explores more than motherhood, more than womanhood. She explores the state of being human. I would follow Elsey anywher This spunky and surprising book is a meditation on motherhood—what it gives and what it can take. Why we put it off and also why we embrace it. Which broken parts inside of us it can heal and which it never can. In meditating on this singular and yet nearly universal experience—in settings Conley makes familiar even when they aren’t (to this reader anyway)—this lyrical novelist explores more than motherhood, more than womanhood. She explores the state of being human. I would follow Elsey anywhere. A must read for anyone who appreciates spare and poetic prose or who relishes the opening up of whole entire worlds through deeply singular stories.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lewis Robinson

    This novel is smart and wry and completely engrossing. I found myself constantly starring/underlining sentences; there are so many to savor. I loved the short chapters and the movement in time. I never once felt bored as Elsey's story unfolded. It’s economically written, though it feels lush with the colors/smells/sounds of its setting. There's such wisdom and beauty in this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Allen Adams

    https://www.themaineedge.com/buzz/por... I’ve been a book reviewer for over a decade. As such, I have seen a lot of books cross my desk – so many, in fact, that there’s no way that I could ever read them all. Some cuts are easy, while others are genuinely hard decisions. One such cut I made back in 2011 was Susan Conley’s memoir “The Foremost Good Fortune.” It was one of the hard ones, but I made it. And when I finally revisited the book some years later, I realized that not only was the decision https://www.themaineedge.com/buzz/por... I’ve been a book reviewer for over a decade. As such, I have seen a lot of books cross my desk – so many, in fact, that there’s no way that I could ever read them all. Some cuts are easy, while others are genuinely hard decisions. One such cut I made back in 2011 was Susan Conley’s memoir “The Foremost Good Fortune.” It was one of the hard ones, but I made it. And when I finally revisited the book some years later, I realized that not only was the decision difficult … it was wrong. I promised myself I wouldn’t miss out on another offering from such a talented writer. Hence, when I received my copy of Conley’s new novel “Elsey Come Home” (Knopf, $25.95), I immediately dug in. And what I got was a beautiful, ethereal piece of writing – a look at the power of family, the nature of creativity and the dynamics of addiction. It’s an exploration of one woman’s psyche, a look both deep and broad into what makes a person tick, packed with emotional resonance and deftly-turned phrases. Elsey is an American painter living in China. From the outside, her life looks like an idyllic success. She’s established a degree of success, with gallery shows and commissions and five-figure sales. Her Danish husband Lukas is also an expat, a noted producer and performer of electronic dance music. They have two daughters and a lovely home. But Elsey is struggling. She can’t find the balance that she wants between her painting, her kids and her husband; instead, she turns inward. She worries and drinks, drinks and worries, leaving all aspects of her life to suffer. One day, Lukas hands her a brochure for a weeklong retreat in the mountains. There’s no stated “or else” ultimatum, but the meaning is clear – if she can’t figure out a way to get herself together, some hard decisions about their family were going to have to be made. And so – she goes, unsure of how (or even if) she wants to get better. At the yoga retreat, Elsey quickly meets a motley collection of fellow seekers. There are wealthy expats, socialites and executives. There are youngsters searching for meaning. And then there’s Mei – a famous Chinese artist whose work Elsey has long admired. There in the hills, in seven days packed with yoga poses and sharing of truths, Elsey is left to confront her own ideas about who she is and the path she wants to take. It becomes a question about where the journey – literal and figurative – will lead. One of the central ideas in “Elsey Come Home” is the recognition of just how difficult it is for people – women in particular – to achieve a satisfactory balance in their lives. The fact that Elsey has to remove herself from her life in order to gain perspective speaks volumes to the pressures that are exerted on us by everyday life. There’s a richness of place that Conley evokes, a sensual surrounding that transforms and transports. Subtle details are woven together like silken threads, creating a variety of tapestries that are all equally striking regardless of the picture they are intended to present. It’s a good word – “present.” It describes perfectly how you feel when immersed in Conley’s prose – she places you precisely where she wants you to be … and where you need to be. Elsey herself fascinates. She is an accomplished, talented woman, yet not even her many gifts are able to guarantee her happiness. Her struggles are genuine and resonant. We feel her internal conflict and see how her inability to give herself over to either her work or her family results in feelings of inadequacy in both realms. Watching as those feelings lead to one glass of wine, two glasses, four glasses … it’s both heartbreaking and uncomfortably real. “Elsey Come Home” is a wonderful read, an insightful bildungsroman that captures one woman’s quest for spiritual satisfaction. It is thoughtful and emotionally charged, a beautiful effort to capture the complexities of striving for a fulfilling and creative life. I passed on a Susan Conley book once before. This book is an exquisite illustration of precisely why I will never make that mistake again.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    I received a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. Two and a half stars. 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 i I received a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review. Two and a half stars. 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.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sika

    This was a beautifully written novel that I couldn’t put down. It was the kind of writing where I reread certain sentences or paragraphs several times because they put to words feelings and emotions that are very difficult to capture. It’s a novel about a woman’s personal journey from being lost and disconnected to finding her way forward. The small and large traumas of life accumulated over many years until they had to be dealt with and could no longer be deprioritzed. It felt incredibly person This was a beautifully written novel that I couldn’t put down. It was the kind of writing where I reread certain sentences or paragraphs several times because they put to words feelings and emotions that are very difficult to capture. It’s a novel about a woman’s personal journey from being lost and disconnected to finding her way forward. The small and large traumas of life accumulated over many years until they had to be dealt with and could no longer be deprioritzed. It felt incredibly personal and completely universal. I will definitely read more by this author and I strongly recommend this book. This book was provided by the publisher for an honest review.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Susan Walker

    This story of a mother, wife and painter at a crossroads is a winner. The character of Elsey is wonderful.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mw

    I didn’t enjoy this book at all. Not sure why, as I think it had a lot of interesting elements: former artist now expat in China struggling with illness, children, marriage, her sisters long ago death, alcoholism. Odd yoga retreat. But for some reason, it never clicked. I found it disjointed, boring, and not for me.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nada

    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... Revi 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... Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jane Sloven

    I read straight through Elsey Come Home, taking time out only to make notes on a slew of sentences. So many were gems—sentences that encapsulated truths or ones that open the heart. This book looks small, but it’s very, very large in so many ways. It skilfully portrays our struggles as women, balancing creativity with marriage and parenting and relationships. It is also a story of Americans living abroad in China, a country which comes alive here, too. Elsey Come Home is a beautiful, deep, thoug I read straight through Elsey Come Home, taking time out only to make notes on a slew of sentences. So many were gems—sentences that encapsulated truths or ones that open the heart. This book looks small, but it’s very, very large in so many ways. It skilfully portrays our struggles as women, balancing creativity with marriage and parenting and relationships. It is also a story of Americans living abroad in China, a country which comes alive here, too. Elsey Come Home is a beautiful, deep, thought-provoking read. I highly recommend it!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Romantic Intentions Quarterly

    It’s possible that there is just too much going on in this book. There is Elsey – wry, clever, falling apart Elsey – an artist who has lost her will to paint in the wake of motherhood. There is Elsey’s alcohol problem, which her DJ husband decides to solve by sending her to a retreat in the Chinese mountains. (They live in China, it should be mentioned.) There are the fellow lost souls she meets there, and Elsey’s long-buried trauma, and her feelings of unworthiness. And all the time you’re worr It’s possible that there is just too much going on in this book. There is Elsey – wry, clever, falling apart Elsey – an artist who has lost her will to paint in the wake of motherhood. There is Elsey’s alcohol problem, which her DJ husband decides to solve by sending her to a retreat in the Chinese mountains. (They live in China, it should be mentioned.) There are the fellow lost souls she meets there, and Elsey’s long-buried trauma, and her feelings of unworthiness. And all the time you’re worried about those kids. It’s definitely an interesting book, one to keep you reading and one that raises some questions about how to fit yourself into someone else’s life without disappearing completely. But it just has a lot going on. It’s wonderfully-written, though, and life as an expat in China is captured pretty much perfectly. – Maura Tan 3 1/2 stars. This review appears in Romantic Intentions Quarterly #4.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Have you ever gone shopping on an empty stomach and you can’t make any decisions? That’s what this book was like. I felt that same foggy feeling that Elsey describes throughout the entire book. It also made me want to eat chicken and dumplings, but I think that’s just me. But maybe it will be you too?

  21. 4 out of 5

    BookGypsy

    Once a successful painter, Elsey can't find the joy she once felt in life. Married with two children, Elsey drowns herself in alcohol and can't find her place as artist, wife and mother. When her husband gives her a brochure for a mountain retreat she knows she has to go. Once at the retreat Elsey meets people and finally understands what she has to do to find happiness. A really great story. Multi layered plot. I really enjoyed this. I was give a copy from the publisher for my honest review. Dawn Once a successful painter, Elsey can't find the joy she once felt in life. Married with two children, Elsey drowns herself in alcohol and can't find her place as artist, wife and mother. When her husband gives her a brochure for a mountain retreat she knows she has to go. Once at the retreat Elsey meets people and finally understands what she has to do to find happiness. A really great story. Multi layered plot. I really enjoyed this. I was give a copy from the publisher for my honest review. Dawn Ruby-BookGypsy Novels N Latte Book Blog Novels & Latte Book Club Hudson Valley NY

  22. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Longstreth

    I found the voice of Elsey to be so relatable that it was unnerving. This is an unflinching look at the interior world of an artist, a mother, a wife and a drinker. After an illness knocks Elsey off her game in a surprisingly complete way, she struggles to find herself within these four identities. What is so impressive about this book is that the overwhelming, foggy struggle of Elsey's state of mind, almost like that of a person struggling with synesthesia, is conveyed by a voice which is spare I found the voice of Elsey to be so relatable that it was unnerving. This is an unflinching look at the interior world of an artist, a mother, a wife and a drinker. After an illness knocks Elsey off her game in a surprisingly complete way, she struggles to find herself within these four identities. What is so impressive about this book is that the overwhelming, foggy struggle of Elsey's state of mind, almost like that of a person struggling with synesthesia, is conveyed by a voice which is spare, quiet and so lean it reaches the bone. This contrast between the light eloquence of the language and the weight of the issues it communicates is mesmerizing and powerful.

  23. 5 out of 5

    thewanderingjew

    Elsey Come Home, Susan Conley, author; narrator, Cassandra Campbell This is a quick read, perfect for a plane ride and vacation. It examines the “coming of age” of a woman Elsey, a painter, who should have already achieved the status of an adult. However, the death of her sister, when she was very young, and her mother’s reaction to it, shaped and distorted her view of herself and her life. Although she has an ideal life, with a loving husband, Lukas, and two children, Myla and Elisabeth, age 7 a Elsey Come Home, Susan Conley, author; narrator, Cassandra Campbell This is a quick read, perfect for a plane ride and vacation. It examines the “coming of age” of a woman Elsey, a painter, who should have already achieved the status of an adult. However, the death of her sister, when she was very young, and her mother’s reaction to it, shaped and distorted her view of herself and her life. Although she has an ideal life, with a loving husband, Lukas, and two children, Myla and Elisabeth, age 7 and 8, and she is living in China with everything she could want, let alone need, she still feels the need to drink excessively to make the world more bearable. Elsey is selfish because she sees everything through the lens of her own pain. She concentrates on the loss of her sister and of what is missing in her life, rather than on what is good in it. When her husband suggests she go away to a small village to rest and have a brief week-long vacation, to meditate and “dry up”, quit drinking, that is, she goes, knowing it is the only thing that will save her marriage. There are some familiar faces at the retreat, along with several strangers. It is a place where they do yoga, have talking circles, days of silence and hiking. It is a place where cell phones do not work. It is a place where she can rediscover who she is and really wants to be. As she meets and interacts with all the people, she grows more introspective and begins to work out her own shortcomings and to resolve her own problems. At times, the story seems to be a series of anecdotes strung together in an uncertain order. Although brief, there are a few holes that need more clarification, like the surgery she had to undergo on her thyroid and the detrimental results from which she suffered. Who is the man she pays to ask her questions and why does she see him? How long has she been seeing him? It would also be nice to know why and when she drinks. Why are the children so fearful? Why are they living in China? Lukas, a musician, is from Denmark and Elsey, a painter, is from Maine in the United States. The author does not make China sound very appealing, but rather a bit frightening. As we examine Elsey’s experiences, thoughts and memories, we discover what troubles her, although not fully. Her marriage may be on the rocks because of her drinking. She is indecisive, always wanting to do something or make a phone call, yet she never does. She makes excuses all the time and must learn to understand her excuses to finally heal herself and come to terms with her problems. Every encounter she has seems rife with uncertainty and danger. When she flies, there is a severe storm which impacts her flight. When she is on “vacation” the life of one of the guests is threatened. Her cab driver falls asleep at the wheel. Myla suffers from an appendicitis attack, her friend Mai grows ill. Finally, we watch Elsey begin to come into her own, to finally morph into the adult she wants to be, but it will take work and time, and she now understands it is worth it to maintain the status quo, keep her family and remain with her loving husband. Soon she is able to engage with her children and her husband more fully. She understands that the death of her young sister, her charge, was not her fault; that her mother was unable to accept her death, and as a result, she too struggled to deal with it. She had no way, and no one, to work out her own grief with, and this internalized it. She seemed a bit undeveloped, slightly flighty and shallow, selfish and a bit ungrateful for all she had. She was not engaged with life or people around her, including her children. She was unaware of Myla or Elisabeth’s height or weight, social security numbers or other personal statistics. While the book held my interest, and it was interesting to watch Elsey grow, I didn’t like many of the characters and would have liked the story to be more fully developed.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Denise Carver

    As a fan of Susan Conley’s The Foremost Good Fortune, I eagerly anticipated her newest release, and needless to say, I was not disappointed. Susan Conley writes in a way that feels intimate and detailed and leaves you feeling connected with the characters, even in this shorter work. When it first started out, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the premise - a woman struggling with life, love and parenting, being sent away by her husband to a yoga retreat (yawn); however, by the time I was more than As a fan of Susan Conley’s The Foremost Good Fortune, I eagerly anticipated her newest release, and needless to say, I was not disappointed. Susan Conley writes in a way that feels intimate and detailed and leaves you feeling connected with the characters, even in this shorter work. When it first started out, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the premise - a woman struggling with life, love and parenting, being sent away by her husband to a yoga retreat (yawn); however, by the time I was more than halfway through, I was completely invested in the character of Elsey. There is so much raw emotion, tenderness and suffering in Elsey, you can’t help but empathize and root for her. The character of Elsey brings to light everything “real” about life — marriage is hard, being sick is hard, being a human being itself is hard; yet Elsey handles life’s challenges with vulnerability and openness that is believable and palpable. I’ve never been a drinker, but I connected with her feeling of yearning to escape and the desperate feeling she had of trying to be the perfect wife, mother and painter, all in one pretty package. Her internal conflict is so real and raw that you forgive her of her flaws and root for her to find her way. My only criticism — and it is minor — is that I felt the plot moved so quickly from one major event to the next and at times, it felt a bit disjointed. I would have loved some deeper development of some of the other characters and story lines. I also didn’t love the cover (I have a weird thing about book cover designs!) The blue-haired, abstract woman on the cover did not fit my impression of Elsey in any way and just wasn’t a cover that would make me want to pick up the book if I were in a bookstore and was not previously aware of the author. Overall though, I give Elsey Come Home 4.5 stars and highly recommend it! I was provided a copy by Knopf Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karin Schott

    I am reading an advanced copy of this book. There will be a full review soon. However I wanted to share this moment... Behold! A bookseller sorting advanced reader copies in the back room... "Oh, wow! Look at that great cover art. Hmm." Bookseller flips book over to read about the book. "Check out the blurbs! Michael Paterniti, oh I love his collection of essays. Hey? Look! Bill Roorbach blurbed it! Loved his Remedy for Love. Richard Russo too?! Hmm, these are all Maine authors. Conley is from Main I am reading an advanced copy of this book. There will be a full review soon. However I wanted to share this moment... Behold! A bookseller sorting advanced reader copies in the back room... "Oh, wow! Look at that great cover art. Hmm." Bookseller flips book over to read about the book. "Check out the blurbs! Michael Paterniti, oh I love his collection of essays. Hey? Look! Bill Roorbach blurbed it! Loved his Remedy for Love. Richard Russo too?! Hmm, these are all Maine authors. Conley is from Maine. ooohhh. There is something in the water here." Elsey is a mom living in China with her musician husband and two daughters. She is clearly unhappy. Her husband gives her a yoga retreat hoping that she will figure some things out while practicing warrior pose. This is the story of a woman, lost from her art and her sense of self, as she struggles with motherhood and long unresolved issues. The writing is spare. The story quiet. The setting of contemporary China lends an air of danger to the story. The pain this character is in is convincing. Motherhood demands so much from women, and how those demands get answered is at the root of this book. It is easy to lend an opinion to how a character should resolve her issues. In the end the writer gets to decide which means that this book surprised me in ways I did not expect.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Baker

    do not know what I expected from this book. it was well written, the story line was depressing. Elsey had a sister who died of cancer while she was in high school. I do not think she ever grieved completely for her sister and that shaped her future life. she found some focus as an artist, but as a married woman with two girls of her own she lost her place. alcohol helped to fill the gag until it did not. off to a weekend long find yourself retreat which was a little bit of a torture. at the end do not know what I expected from this book. it was well written, the story line was depressing. Elsey had a sister who died of cancer while she was in high school. I do not think she ever grieved completely for her sister and that shaped her future life. she found some focus as an artist, but as a married woman with two girls of her own she lost her place. alcohol helped to fill the gag until it did not. off to a weekend long find yourself retreat which was a little bit of a torture. at the end of the day she found her artist self, wife self and mother self. did find the asian connection to be interesting. the Maine connection seems to be the author putting bits of her younger life into a book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    3.5 stars. This quick little book started out not being able to hold my attention too much but by the time I was more than halfway through I was really invested in Elsey. There is so much suffering and so much realness and so much tenderness in this book. Marriage is hard. Being a human is hard. And while I don't drink, I could still connect to her feeling of wanting to escape and her feelings around choosing between being a mother and being a thing you want to be (painter in this case) and bein 3.5 stars. This quick little book started out not being able to hold my attention too much but by the time I was more than halfway through I was really invested in Elsey. There is so much suffering and so much realness and so much tenderness in this book. Marriage is hard. Being a human is hard. And while I don't drink, I could still connect to her feeling of wanting to escape and her feelings around choosing between being a mother and being a thing you want to be (painter in this case) and being a wife. Her internal conflict is so real in this book and so easy to connect to that I couldn't help but root for her. I'm glad I persevered with this one.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Electa Sevier

    This is a beautiful novel about motherhood and family. It drew me in from the very beginning and I loved being in Elsey's head. She is at once so familiar, as a mother who is torn between her role as a mother and her ambitions and dreams, and so unusual to me, as an expat living in China. Conley captures all the ways that family can subsume you and how important it is to find yourself within it. The vignettes throughout this novel were so vivid and kept me firmly ensconced in Elsey's world. This This is a beautiful novel about motherhood and family. It drew me in from the very beginning and I loved being in Elsey's head. She is at once so familiar, as a mother who is torn between her role as a mother and her ambitions and dreams, and so unusual to me, as an expat living in China. Conley captures all the ways that family can subsume you and how important it is to find yourself within it. The vignettes throughout this novel were so vivid and kept me firmly ensconced in Elsey's world. This is a GREAT read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Coombes

    This book was okay for me. It was a very quick read, but it covered a lot of topics. Elsey is an american expat living in China. She is an artist, married and has 2 children. However, she finds she has lost the ability to still create art and live a fulfilling life. She drinks alot and seems very lost. Her husband, who is Dutch, strongly urges Elsey to attend a retreat for one week in the mountains. While I enjoyed the story, I found myself wanting to read it quickly to finish it. I never really This book was okay for me. It was a very quick read, but it covered a lot of topics. Elsey is an american expat living in China. She is an artist, married and has 2 children. However, she finds she has lost the ability to still create art and live a fulfilling life. She drinks alot and seems very lost. Her husband, who is Dutch, strongly urges Elsey to attend a retreat for one week in the mountains. While I enjoyed the story, I found myself wanting to read it quickly to finish it. I never really got into it very much. I received a complimentary copy as part of the Goodreads Giveaway program.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Claudia Wagener

    I enjoyed this book. Each chapter is only a couple of pages long, so you really get to read as much or as little as you want every time you go to read it. The author’s way of writing kept me engaged for most of the book. The ending was a bit of a letdown, as I felt that nothing really happened. I expected more, or I at least expected the ending to be standard but written in a thought provoking way. Overall, this book has given me insight on marriage and insecurity in relationships. I would have l I enjoyed this book. Each chapter is only a couple of pages long, so you really get to read as much or as little as you want every time you go to read it. The author’s way of writing kept me engaged for most of the book. The ending was a bit of a letdown, as I felt that nothing really happened. I expected more, or I at least expected the ending to be standard but written in a thought provoking way. Overall, this book has given me insight on marriage and insecurity in relationships. I would have loved to learn more of the what life is like for a foreigner living in china.

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