Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Meet Tom. Or Dr O’Grady, as he used to be called. When you pass him on the street, most people don’t even give him a second glance. You see, Tom isn’t living his best life. Burdened by grief, he’s only got his loyal dog, Bette Davis, for company and a rucksack containing his whole world.
Then there’s Ruth and her son, DJ, who no longer have a place to call home. But Ruth believes that you can change the world by helping one person at a time – and Tom needs her help.
There are a thousand ways to find your home – you just need to be brave enough to look for them.
Many thanks to Mary from Harper Collins Ireland for my copy of A Thousand Roads Home to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Carmel Harrington's new book A Thousand Roads Home features a theme which is very relevant to today's society - homelessness in all its different forms and the profound impact it has on so many lives. It sounds awful to have to say but it is a hot topic at the moment especially in Ireland where the story is set, as day in day out we hear unimaginable stories of people losing their homes and being forced to find temporary accommodation in hotels. Not to mention the people who have long been forced to live rough on the streets. No doubt about it it is a subject that fuels plenty of debate and there seems to be no long term solution in sight and instead the situation seems to be getting worse. This book provides the reader with plenty of food for thought and I think it would be an ideal read for a book club given the numerous issues it raises.
I feel homelessness has never been written about in a women's fiction book that I have read before and I commend Carmel for taking the risk and bringing this topic even more into the limelight. I thought everything was presented with such an all round view and never at any time did it feel like she was coming down on one side of the argument or the other. Overall, this was no rose tinted view of the situation although at times I did feel certain parts tended to stray down this avenue as some things became too easy for certain characters despite the varying situations they found themselves in. As we venture further forward towards the conclusion, the many strands of the story intertwine and are woven together in the most beautiful and heart-warming of ways. I felt I was there alongside each character as they journeyed through such incredibly tough times and I felt every bit of the maelstrom of emotions that they experienced. Their battle to seek the light and hopefully emerge triumphant on the other side was an emotional one and very well written and researched.
Where is home? Wherever the people who we love are. This statement couldn't be more true but for the main characters Ruth, her son DJ and the man they meet – Tom. They question whether this will ever become a reality again? Together these characters do an extraordinary thing and come together to make a warm and unforgettable novel that will leave a lump in your throat and a range of emotions running through your heart and mind. When Ruth had DJ she moved to Dublin and ran away from everything she had known. From the outset it was evident that Ruth was an anxious person and the many obsessions and strict routines she has to adhere to dominate her life. But her main priority is always for the well being of DJ.
I knew fairly on that there was something not quite right with Ruth and that these obsessions had to have a cause and soon the reader is made aware that Ruth has Asperger's. When herself and DJ are made homeless their world falls apart and despair sets in. Ruth can't cope with change and she needs strict order and stability in her life. She is very matter of fact and blunt in her observations and statements. She is a person who always wants to do the right thing and follow the rules, so her new situation really does test her. So an unknown and precarious future is not what she seeks. Saying this Ruth is a reliable and committed person when it comes to her son and she will always put DJ first ahead of her own needs despite the voices telling her otherwise.
The pair are offered temporary accommodation by the council in The Silver Sands Lodge run by landlady Erica who was just a fabulous and funny character. The hotel is being used to house people who have been placed on the housing waiting list and what unfolds is an extraordinary, special and unique story. Ruth doesn't want to become another statistic in regards to the homeless crisis in Ireland and she is determined to change her fate and that of DJ's but how can she go about this. We meet a wide range of characters in The Silver Sands Hotel and Carmel painted a picture of people from all kinds of backgrounds all connected by one common bond - they have no place to call home, no security and no safety. Ruth finds the entire situation very uncomfortable and all the changes, stress and upheaval go against everything she has previously attempted to create for her son. DJ was a stand out character, a boy older and wiser than his years. I think he felt like he was the one who had to look after Ruth given how vulnerable she was but if Ruth realised that was the way DJ was thinking she wouldn't have wanted this at all.
When Ruth strikes up a conversation with a man she meets on a park bench this is the catalyst for change although to reach the point of acceptance and happiness will not be an easy road by any stretch of the imagination. Tom is a rough sleeper so there are similarities between himself and Ruth although at the moment Ruth does have a roof over her head even if it is not the home she would wish for herself and her child. Tom was a brilliantly written character and in my mind the best in the book. For me Ruth was just a bit too all over the place, and I know this was the way she was meant to be written and we are meant to feel this way about her in particular in the beginning, but Tom was far stronger and wiser in my opinion.
Tom was originally from Wexford but left for reasons unknown to the reader. He escapes into his past on a daily basis and it's what gets him through the long hard days outside in all weathers in the company of his faithful dog. Through his recollections we come to understand a little bit about him. His story is tragic but I only gained a further and even deeper appreciation for him as we near the end of the book. Tom is a remarkable man whose background can help others. He takes on Ruth as almost like a task or a personal mission. If he succeeds it will be like an atonement for what happened to him in what he would term his previous life. There was also another strand to Tom's story when he meets some less than hospitable characters. This element of the book was raw and emotional but sadly I would think an all too common occurrence. Rough sleepers can be invisible, the ignored, the forgotten and often referred to as the dredges of society but as Ruth meets Tom and feels there is a connection between she is determined to bring the sparkle back into his life.
I thoroughly enjoyed the way Tom's story was developed as his life becomes that little bit brighter when he meets Ruth. It's like they formed a bond but more in a family way than anything else. Both are broken in some way and working together they can attempt to heal the cracks in each other's lives. They see qualities in each other that they can bring forth and they need that little bit of sparkle, hope and redemption to keep them going through the times sent to test them. As stronger ties develop between Ruth, DJ and Tom they become hard to break and Tom wonders should he do this given he has become so accustomed to relying on just himself to make it through the pain and hardship of each day.
The story did move along at a good pace and I enjoyed reading about the conversations and interactions between the various residents of the hotel who connect and come to rely on each other. There were one or two incidents where things became just that bit too cushy for certain characters. That certain things seemed to find resolution that little bit too easily and I questioned is this happening to everyone in real life even more so as this book is based on real life themes and issues. Saying that Carmel Harrington has written a remarkable book that will awaken your eyes to the issue of being homeless and perhaps if you haven't already you will give it more thought and be more considerate the next time you see someone sleeping on the streets.
A Thousand Roads Home is a compelling, honest and intense read that deserves to be consumed in one go and is one I would definitely recommend to take away on holidays with you this summer.