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Lockdown Literature: Concepts of Home

Lockdown forced us to become more familiar with our homes and neighbourhoods. Some have been delighted to discover new treasures on our doorsteps … or even behind the sofa. It left others desperate to get away. Perhaps you’ve felt a mixture of both?

The title of my novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, promises a homecoming, but it’s not straightforward. Is it ever? Whether readers consider the promise fulfilled depends on the identity of Matilda Windsor and on their concept of home. Is home where we feel most comfortable or where we spend most of our time?

Home means different things to my three main characters. Matty has spent fifty years in Ghyllside psychiatric hospital but, in her head, she’s a society hostess in a stately home. Henry, a local government officer approaching retirement, lives alone in the house where he was born, but he can’t make it homely without his sister, who left when he was a boy. Janice, a social worker in her early twenties, rents a one-bedroom flat, but still considers the house she grew up in, and the one she shared as a student with friends, as home.

Home is a popular theme in fiction; one poignant and funny novel that shaped me as a writer is Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, which I read in my teens. However, I created my character Matty, the beating heart of Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, with a much older heroine in mind. In Emma Healey’s beautiful debut, Elizabeth Is Missing, dementia is shrinking Maud’s world (and brain). As her life becomes more confusing, her house is a retreat, but eventually she’ll be too disabled to stay there safely on her own. Perhaps she’ll move in with her daughter, or be admitted to a ‘home’.

Can hospital be home for long-term residents? Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest  suggests not. As outlined in my post, Resettlement revisited in my novel Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, part of the motivation for the asylum closures was to give former patients somewhere to live that was more like a home.

If it’s hard for vulnerable adults to feel at home within residential services, how much harder must it be for children in the care system? In My Name Is Leon, Kit de Waal shows how tough life can be for looked-after children, especially if they are black. Silver, in Hope Farm by Peggy Frew, does have the luxury of living with her mother, but she longs to leave the commune so she can have her to herself.

For people violently uprooted, reconnection can take generations, as Yaa Gyasi illustrates in her magnificent debut about the enslavement of people from the region of Africa that is now Ghana, Homegoing. As Ben Fountain explores in the satire Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, return is also complicated for young men who’ve been damaged since leaving, especially when their individuality is denied and they are being used as political pawns.

I could go on; there must be thousands of novels about home.

Which is your favourite and what does it tell us

about the meaning of home?

Anne Goodwin is the author of three novels and a short story collection with small independent press Inspired Quill.

Anne posts about reading and writing on her blog Annecdotal.


  1. ellenbest24 says:

    To capture a castle, little women and Alice in Wonderland were my first loves. I love the very first line of Dodie Smith’s writing, the way she writes about her special home. The feel of home in little women, the dynamic. I searched for that perfect dynamic with my three sisters. Alice constantly trying to find home, just do this and all will be perfect and wither she ate it drank it or went to the highest authority made little difference to where she woke up. Then there was always Dorothy. I am convinced my ankles are weak from clicking my heels and trying to convince myself there,’s no place like home. I think I look for home or a version of in every book. My home is in there, between the pages amongst the dust moites of both old and new books.

  2. beth says:

    i thought of ‘the incredible journey’, as it seems home is where everyone, human or otherwise, spends their life trying to find or get back to

  3. I’m nodding in agreement that Home is a popular theme but then thinking I don’t read enough to tell you some examples. The Odyssey…
    Heard it said once that leaving home or being somehow orphaned is common in middle grade books because that corresponds with their development, that need to venture away to be independent. In My Side of the Mountain the mc has his parents’ consent to live on his own in the woods for a year.
    But I think adults like the coming home books, having grown weary of our own odysseys. I enjoyed Sean Prentiss’ Finding Abby, and feel that was as much a looking for Home story as a search for Edward Abby’s burial site. Another book that popped into my head while reading your lovely post was Abel’s Island, a book for all ages as far as I’m concerned. Abel, a high society mouse, becomes stranded and is forever trying to get back home. In the meantime he finds out about himself and is a better mouse for enduring hardship and solitude.

    • Thanks for these reflections. The Odyssey: of course! My mind is overly focused on contempory fiction.
      I also hadn’t considered the WHY of those kids’ books getting rid of the parents (sometimes unrealistically), for me that’s Enid Blyton’s Famous Five off on jolly middle-class adventures, but it makes such good sense developmentally.

  4. Myrna Migala says:

    My mother would often say, it is nice and fun to get away from home, but better to come home again.

  5. Jules says:

    Some children’s books have a similar theme; Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio, even Peter Pan. Not all homecomings are what we expect. I think when we read we like to find something about the main character that we can identify with.

    I recently read a thriller mystery where coming home – to the memories of childhood – was rather horrid. Familial abuse is not the home we want to remember.

    Thanks for your informative post ~ Julse

  6. Hi Anne, it is interesting to consider the different forms of home. I like your three different homes from your book. I hadn’t thought of it quite like that but, on reflection, it makes sense.

  7. Charli Mills says:

    Home is indeed a popular theme to explore in books because I believe it is universally relatable. You ask, “Is home where we feel most comfortable or where we spend most of our time?” Sometimes, I think where we feel most comfortable is where we spend most of our time. Henry is an example of someone stuck in the home rut. Matty has fabricated her home life to suit her after the damage to her sense of home as a child and young adult. Janice, is like many, willing to start with a nondescript flat to build a career and eventually a home.

    You offer great examples across the literature. You made me realize that what I liked most about the entire Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder is that her pioneering life was a search for home. I related as a child, living in a place where people “settled.” I grew up with a curiosity and belief that home could be sought and found in a place. Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyies is more about women’s relationships but it could be argued that another of the book’s themes shows how women long for homes of their own outside the control of men. The Mason House and FireKeeper’s Daughter (the former memoir, the latter YA) both deal with what home means for those of Indigenous descent with a mixed heritage.

    Home has heart and hearth; community roots and autonomous limbs; home is where and what you make of it. Thanks for a thoughtful Lockdown Reading column, Anne!

    • I think we’re lucky when we can get to the point that the place we feel most comfortable is where we spend most of our time. I hadn’t thought of Little House, which I know only from TV adaptations which I didn’t find very relatable as a child, but I know you love that series in books. Thanks for those other suggestions.

      And I neglected to mention how you’ve built a home for writers at the Ranch.

  8. Norah says:

    Interesting post, Anne. I particularly like the way you describe the homes in Matilda Windsor is coming home. Henry was certainly tied to his home, in quite an irrational way. Matty lived in a home of her own creation when the reality didn’t suit. I think Janice is still finding her heart and home. She’s not yet sure where she fits.
    I was trying to think of books I’ve read about homes and am at a bit of a loss, drawing a blank. Though recently I have read books about being displaced by war and finding a new home – both as a result of WWII and more recent refugee situations. I think that situation is different from the ones you describe.

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