The Walk Home

The Walk Home

5.0 4
by Rachel Seiffert

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Stevie hasn't set foot in his home town for years, and he can’t decide whether to let his family—what’s left of them, anyway—know he’s back. He wasn’t the first to cut and run—in their own ways, his mother, his father, and his uncle all fled before he did—but should he be the first to come home?

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Stevie hasn't set foot in his home town for years, and he can’t decide whether to let his family—what’s left of them, anyway—know he’s back. He wasn’t the first to cut and run—in their own ways, his mother, his father, and his uncle all fled before he did—but should he be the first to come home?

Moving between Stevie’s life as a construction worker in present-day Glasgow and the story of his parents when they were young, The Walk Home is a heartbreakingly powerful novel about the risks of love, and the madness and betrayals that can split a family. Gripping, haunting and, ultimately, hopeful, here is a piercingly honest story about the journey home—and the people there waiting for you.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A brilliantly compelling and powerful work, told in beautiful, lean prose.” —The Economist

“Against a backdrop of religious and political divisions, Seiffert’s even prose is melodious.” —The New Yorker

“Intelligent and sophisticated.” —The Times (London)

“Seiffert continues to go from strength to strength. . . . As flinty and gritty as its characters and their vernacular. . . . Seiffert’s tragedy grips while it disturbs and its emotional punch makes it worth persevering until her bitter end.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A sort of fictional reportage illuminating the life and work of those invisibly holding our cities together. . . . Glimpses into the new Glasgow bring both the book and the city to life.” —Financial Times

“A brave, beautiful novel.” —The Guardian (London)

“Seiffert’s ear for speech patterns seems as excellent as you’d expect from a novelist brought up bilingually. . . . [She has a] finely tuned sense of the idea of home in all its seductiveness and fragility. . . . Written with great skill and control.” —Sydney Morning Herald

The Walk Home may take place in Glasgow, but it is universal in its narrative pursuit. And the sparse emotion of the story’s ending will leave a crack in even the most impassive of hearts.” —Toronto Star

“Riveting. . . . Further proof of Seiffert’s enviable talents as a writer. . . . While the conflict in which her characters are trapped might be ugly, the men and women are captivating.” —The Daily Telegraph (London)

“Deftly drawn and perceptively observed.” —Daily Mail (London)

“An engrossing domestic drama. . . . Seiffert’s writing is both tightly controlled and almost orchestral in its sweep. You feel every emotion deeply. . . . A rare novel.” —Irish Independent

“Exquisitely pared down prose by a writer who really feels for her characters and the tainted lives they are living.” —The Herald (Scotland)

“Deeply moving. . . . As heart-breaking as it is heart-warming, this delicate and powerful novel will stay with you long after the final page.” —Irish Examiner

“Full of intelligence, heart and compassion. . . . A tale of the urban working classes; where they draw their strengths from, their history and where they find dignity. . . . Seiffert has a superb ear for language.” —Scotland on Sunday

“Thought-provoking. . . . Seiffert illuminates historical and political issues through harrowing personal drama.” —Publishers Weekly

“Energetic, persuasive and lively . . . Seiffert’s brio and talent are once again amply on display.” —Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Seiffert, author of the Booker-shortlisted The Dark Room, turns to her former hometown, Glasgow, for this thought-provoking novel. As in her previous works, Seiffert illuminates historical and political issues through harrowing personal dramas. The story opens “now, or thereabouts,” as construction foreman Jozef dreams of finally earning enough money on his current building project to allow him to return to Gdansk, Poland, where he hopes to convince his estranged wife to make another go of their marriage. The Polish workers don’t understand young Glasgow native Stevie’s presence on their work crew, but neither do they question it, especially after he uses his skills as a burglar to retrieve supplies belonging to the crew that a former employer has locked away. A second narrative strand, beginning in the early 1990s and eventually intersecting with the present-day story, reveals Stevie’s troubled upbringing in Glasgow. His parents, Eric and Brenda, both from Irish Protestant backgrounds, fell out over Eric’s involvement with a hardline anti-Catholic group. Throughout, Seiffert questions whether it’s possible to transcend a legacy of conflict without escaping your background altogether, and considers what life feels like when the concept of “home” is far from safe or simple. Agent: Toby Eady, Toby Eady Associates (U.K.). (July)
Library Journal
A family's land is destroyed by revolutionaries in early 1900s Ireland, which sets off a series of betrayals, fractured relationships, and broken hearts passed from generation to generation in Seiffert's third novel (after the Orange Prize-longlisted Afterwards). Papa Robert is a pious Protestant who flees to Scotland once his family's home is burned. He rejects his son Eric, who is gifted yet mentally ill, after Eric marries a Catholic. Robert's painfully shy grandson, Graham, finds camaraderie in a political marching band and marries a girl who has also fled her splintered life in Ireland. As their son Stevie grows up, his parents grow apart, and his mother eventually leaves. Stevie's hurt is so great that he leaves the family as well, working with builders from Poland who have come to the UK to earn a living, reluctantly leaving their own families behind. Although the story shifts back and forth in time, common themes run deep in this novel: people need one another desperately, yet their shared legacy of pain prevents any real healing. VERDICT For readers who enjoy rocky emotional journeys and who also have some understanding of the history of Ireland's political troubles. [See Prepub Alert, 1/10/14.]—Susanne Wells, Indianapolis P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
The resolutely quiet and somber third novel from Seiffert, who came to prominence in literary Britain in 2001 with her first novel, the Booker-shortlisted The Dark Room, takes place in Glasgow and moves back and forth between two time frames: "Now, or thereabouts" and the early 1990s.The central figure in the present-tense sections is Stevie, a native Glaswegian who has returned from self-imposed exile to his home city to work as a laborer alongside Polish-immigrant construction workers but who has not let his family know. The novel centers on the vexed and ever vexing—inescapable—shadow of the Irish Troubles. Stevie is the displaced child of a displaced child; his mother fled Ireland to get away from the familial and cultural legacy of strife and violence, and when, years later, her husband, Graham, a lifelong member of a marching band, finds himself more and more tempted by the radical politics of some of his bandmates (they have links to Belfast paramilitaries) and decides to join them in marching in the Protestant Orange Walk in Glasgow, she disappears again—and Stevie decamps soon after.Seiffert's use of the Glasgow dialect is simultaneously the biggest stumbling block (for an American reader) and the novel's greatest distinction and triumph; the book is most energetic, persuasive and lively in its sections of dialogue and can seem a bit flat and muted elsewhere, though Seiffert's brio and talent are once again amply on display.

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
Product dimensions:
5.21(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.62(d)

Read an Excerpt


The girl came as a shock. It took Brenda a while to adjust: a girl was the last thing she’d expected from Graham.
He was Brenda’s youngest, by a few years, a big baby with a big head; oh ho, a troop cometh, Malky said. Graham was a happy accident, who never stopped eating, never stopped growing. He was the quietest of their four sons, but also the tallest, and the widest. Overnight he couldn’t do up the buttons on his school shirts, his socks forever showing where his trousers were too short. Graham was a gentle lad, and a comfort, but a bit too backwards in coming forwards, so Brenda fretted about him some school mornings, after she’d dropped him at the gates: hard to see him sidelined at the railings till the bell went.
She and Malky used to talk about him last thing at night, in bed, lights out. Brenda said she watched all the other boys tearing about, and Graham standing there like he didn’t know how. Malky said he’d learn, give him time. So she’d held her tongue when Graham joined his first band.
It wasn’t that Brenda liked it, but it was just about the first thing he’d joined in with. And she knew plenty boys who’d done the same: her older sons’ school pals, and even Malky, before they were married and he’d settled to driving his cab. Malky reckoned it was just a scheme hazard, part of life if your life was lived in Drumchapel. He said boys will be boys, they’ll always want to belong, and he teased Brenda too: he said it was her blood coming through. Her Dad had been an Orangeman, true blue, forever nursing the wounds of his Free State youth; aw the faimly woes, they all lead back tae Ireland. But Malky was a sweet man, mostly, and he could tease without being hurtful, so Brenda trusted him when he told her flute bands were forever springing up and then folding, and Graham would grow out of it, same as he had.
Graham was thirteen when he started. He got himself a paper round to pay for his uniform, and Brenda didn’t know that it was worth it: all he did was bash the cymbals. But the months went by with him saving, and then the Glasgow Walk rolled round, as it always did, just ahead of Ulster; first Saturday in July she sent him off with a good breakfast, if not her blessing, and then Graham came home again towards tea time with his face all shining. Wide-shouldered and even taller in his new uniform trousers. He said how folk on the scheme had cheered them, and followed them all the way into town, and how the lodge they’d played for had paid them too, like no one had told him that’s how it worked. Graham saved his cut, in any case, and then he took on a second round, because he could manage two paper bags, one across each shoulder. He did that for months. Earned himself enough for a drum. Just second-hand, but he chose a good one, Malky said so: he remembered that much from his own band days.
The drum got Malky worried too, Brenda could see that, because he went out and made enquiries. He even went along to practice, to see where this was headed, and have a quiet word to Geordie. He was the bandmaster, and an Orangeman too, but one of the decent kind. Malky told Brenda his band had been going decades, no headcases allowed: Geordie only kept folk that could hold a melody down. He didn’t like a drum to be battered, the way they did in the blood-and-thunder bands, he said it should be played, and he taught Graham the difference. So for a while there, they breathed a bit easier.
Only it turned out Graham was quick to learn, and quick to get poached by other bands. It was a new lot he went to Tyrone with: none of them much over twenty, not one of them with an ounce of sense. The idiot bandmaster reckoned the Glasgow Walk was just a warm-up to get the marching season started. The real deal was over in Ireland on the Twelfth, so he’d talked some country lodge into hiring them, and it was a worry from the outset, the whole enterprise.
Brenda looked the town up in the atlas that used to be her father’s. It was just a thumbprint’s distance from Portadown, where they didn’t just remember the Battle of the Boyne each July, they fought it against their neighbours all year round. She told Malky it was too much like the place her Dad was born in; she’d grown up hearing all Papa Robert’s stories, of the Irish Civil War and what came after, when the Free State turned out to be anything but, and the family fled across the water. Plus she’d had two sons in the army, and endured their Ulster tours of duty, so there were just some place names that set Brenda on edge. The folk around those parts were unyielding. Not just the Catholics, with their residents’ groups, stirring the bloody soup, but her own kind too: staunch. No thought of surrender allowed there. They all had their reasons, turned rigid over centuries of grievance, but Brenda said if no one bent, then someone was bound to break, and she didn’t want it to be their boy.
She’d gone to meet Graham off the coach, when it drew up outside the snooker club, hours late, and it was bucketing too. He was a sight: looked like he’d spent the three days drinking himself red-eyed. Relief made Brenda run off at the mouth, and she gave the older boys in the band a piece of her mind, until they put her straight:
“A braw lassie wae red hair doon tae her bum, missus. Nothin tae dae wae us.”
It took days to get any sense out of Graham. He sat there with his dinner plates untouched, his eyes all small and sore in his big face. The phone kept going, every few hours, call box calls from far-off Tyrone, and Graham lay on the sofa pining after the next one, a great soft lump. Young love. Malky said it would pass, give it a month. But one morning, a bit more than a month later, Graham was gone. His bed was made, and a note taped to the kettle: back themorrow. And he was too, with Lindsey, who was seventeen and six weeks pregnant.
It floored her; Brenda wasn’t going to deny it. But there they were, standing hand in hand in her kitchen, both smiling so much she could feel the happiness off them, like heat.

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