Wherever We’re Together, That’s My Home*

Home is  Where You AreA really interesting post from writer and fellow blogger Jan Morrison has got me thinking about how we conceive of ‘home.’ For some people, that word represents a geographical place. Home has to do with the culture, lifestyle, and language of a particular setting. There are also people who think of a building when they think of ‘home.’ Perhaps it’s one they grew up in or had constructed.

For other people, though, it’s less about a physical place than it is about family and the people in one’s life. In those cases, home is wherever loved ones are. I don’t have the data to support this, but my guess is that that conception of home is getting more common as the world gets smaller and more and more people move. Certainly we see it in crime fiction, and have for some time.

For example, Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are not physically bound to one place they call home (as, say, Miss Marple is to St. Mary Mead). They’ve lived in several places, and they’ve traveled to many more. For the Beresfords, home isn’t so much a geographical location. Rather, it’s wherever they are together. They’ve lived in small service flats, houses, and, in Postern of Fate, a smaller house they intend to use as their retirement home. It’s not spoiling the series to say that even at the end of that novel, when the Beresfords are into their ‘golden years,’ they’re contemplating moving yet again. For them, ‘home’ means family rather than one particular town or region.

Timothy Hallinan’s Philip ‘Poke’ Rafferty is an ex-pat American travel writer who lives and works in Bangkok. His conception of ‘home’ has little to do with geography, although he’s come to feel comfortable in his adopted city. Rather, ‘home’ for him is the life he’s cobbled together with his wife Rose and adopted daughter Miaow. Rose, too, equates home with family, rather than one particular geographic location. Her conception though is a bit different. She is Thai, with that culture’s view of family and family obligations. Her parents, siblings and relatives are as much a part of how she sees ‘home’ as are Rafferty and Miaow, much as she cares for them. It’s an interesting difference in world views and perspectives, and Rafferty and Rose have their occasional difficult moments as they learn to live together.

Angela Savage’s PI sleuth Jayne Keeney is originally from Melbourne. She’s happy enough with her Australian cultural identity, but she doesn’t really think of Melbourne as ‘home.’ In fact, she’s got no real desire to live there at all. She’s made a life for herself in Thailand, where she’s come to feel very comfortable. And she’s also begun to equate ‘home’ with her partner, Rajiv Patel. He’s originally from India, but moved to Bangkok to escape his family’s micromanagement. He starts by helping run his uncle’s bookshop (that’s where he and Keeney first met). Later he becomes Keeney’s business partner, then her partner in life as well. Like Keeney, Patel is happy enough with his cultural identity. But ‘home’ for him is no longer India. Rather, it’s the life he’s trying to build with Keeney. Interestingly, they’re both moving from not having a strong sense of ‘home’ to a perception of ‘home is where you are.’

Vicki Delany’s Constable Moonlight ‘Molly’ Smith is from Trafalgar, British Columbia. That’s where she grew up and the place she thinks of as home. For her parents, though, it’s a very different story. In the early novels featuring Smith, we learn that her mother Lucy ‘Lucky’ and father Andy are originally from the US. Lucky moved to Canada with Andy so that he could avoid being drafted to serve in Vietnam. They’ve made a new place for themselves in Canada, and are content there. For both of them, ‘home’ has much less to do with a particular geographic place than it does with being together.

Of course, ‘home is where you are’ doesn’t always turn out well, as Joanna Lindsay discovers in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. She and Alistair Robertson met and fell in love in Scotland, where he moved from his home outside Melbourne. Now he wants to return to Australia with Joanna and their nine-week-old son Noah. It’s not so much that he misses Australia, so he tells Joanna. What he wants is to fight for custody of his teenage daughter Chloe, who lives there with her mother Alexandra. He believes that a stay in Australia will strengthen his case. Joanna’s never been there, but she agrees to go; as many qualms as she may have about leaving Scotland, her home, as she sees it, is with Alistair and Noah. When they arrive in Australia, they begin a long drive to the house where they’ll be staying. Along the way, they face every parent’s worst nightmare: the loss of Noah. When his disappearance is reported to police, they start a massive search; soon, the Australian press goes into high gear about it. But gradually, questions are raised about, especially, Joanna’s possible role in what happened. As the story evolves, we learn what really happened to Noah. Without spoiling the plot, I can say that Joanna’s perception of home as ‘where my family is’ doesn’t turn out as she expected it would.

What about you? What do you think of when you think of ‘home?’ Is it family? A geographical place? A building? Thanks, Jan, for offering this rich ‘food for thought.’ Folks, do check out Jan’s wonderful writing blog, as well as her blog about life in Labrador.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s You’re My Home.



Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Savage, Helen Fitzgerald, Timothy Hallinan, Vicki Delany

25 responses to “Wherever We’re Together, That’s My Home*

  1. Dorothy L Sayers again for me – I always remember Lord Peter buying a house, Talboys, for Harriet, because she remembered it as a child, it was in the village she grew up in, so reminded her of home. So they have it as a weekend cottage from then on, despite the fact there was a murder there. That’s in Busman’s Honeymoon, the final full novel, but Talboys pops up in the fragments and short stories Sayers left behind.

    • Oh, yes, of course it does, Moira! Thanks for reminding me of that. And I like that part of the premise of Busman’s Honeymoon, too. It’s a lovely sort of gesture Lord Peter wants to make. It’s a bit off topic, but I also like Lord Peter’s mother’s account of her encounter with Harriet – very well done.

  2. Some smells trigger ‘home’, as in my childhood home. Or songs from the past. But what most triggers the feeling of home for me is my husband’s face. No matter where we live or how far we go from our original house I’ll always be at home… with him. After almost twenty years together he is definitely my version of “home”.

    • I know exactly what you mean, Sue. My husband and I have lived in several places. No matter where it is, he and his things add to that sense of ‘home’ for me.

  3. Kathy D.

    I’m glad Jayne Keeney appears in this post, and I think she thinks of Thailand as her home, having lived there for years, knowing the language, culture and people
    Among my favorite detectives are V.I. Warshawski, who definitely considers Chicago home and Guido Brunetti for whom Venice is his everything, although his home with his family is his favorite spot. Ruth Galloway considers home where she lives in Norfolk with her daughter.
    For me, home is New York City, although I have nostalgia for Chicago, where I spent much of my childhood. And “home” is where my books, artwork and comfortable things are.

    • Kathy – You give some great examples of fictional sleuths who equate ‘home’ with a geographical place. I can’t imagine any of them living anywhere else. And I love it that for you, ‘home’ is where your books and artwork and so on are. I think a lot of people don’t feel at home unless they have those personal things nearby.

  4. I so love the way you ‘get’ my novels, Margot. A sense of ‘home’ and what it means to belong in a globalised world are among my central preoccupations as an author. As a white Australian, I come from a beautiful country, and a privileged culture founded on terrible violence against the Indigenous population. This unease fuels my search for a sense of ‘home’ that is more inclusive, less place-based, more about relationships. And of course, this plays out in my fiction.

    • How kind of you, Angela. I think you explore that topic in really effective ways too. And I know all too well how it feels to be a white citizen of a beautiful country, and a privileged culture founded on terrible violence against the Indigenous population. The same is true of me, although of course, I’m not Australian. And it makes me just as uneasy. You’re right that a sense of ‘home’ is best if it’s not at the expense of someone else. And why not make it more about relationships?

  5. Reblogged this on Angela Savage and commented:
    I so love it when readers — and Margot Kinberg is one of the best readers around — really ‘get’ my novels. A sense of ‘home’ and what it means to belong in a globalised world are among my central preoccupations as an author. As a white Australian, I come from a beautiful country, and a privileged culture, founded on terrible violence against the Indigenous population. This unease fuels my search for a sense of ‘home’ that is more inclusive, less place-based, more about relationships. And of course, this plays out in my fiction — as Margot so astutely notes in her blog post about perceptions of ‘home’ in crime fiction. Enjoy!

  6. Col

    Home for me is both family and a sense of connection to where we’ve lived for over 20 years and raised our children. I can be with the family out and about and not be “home” and I can be physically home alone, with the family elsewhere and it is missing an important ingredient.

    • I like the way you put that, Col. It’s the people in your life whom you love, but it’s also the place where a lot of your memories have happened. And that means books, mementos, clothes, all sorts of things that imbue where you live with a sense of your family.

  7. Kathy D.

    Oh, yes, must add Salvo Montalbano, whose home is definitely Sicily. I think with him home is wherever he is and wherever he can obtain a delicious Sicilian dinner of pasta and pesce.
    Oh, and I must add that any “home” for me has to include all varieties of tchotchkes. Too many to recall.

    • Oh, I think tchotchkes are an important part of what makes a place feel like home, Kathy. It could be something as small as a special refrigerator magnet; or it could be something like a memento from a trip somewhere. Whatever it is, those little things give a certain kind of warmth to a place.

  8. I never really thought about ‘home’ till I moved away and discovered homesickness. I’ve known since then that home to me isn’t a particular house, or even my family, important though they are. It’s a geographical region – I’m home if I’m within a radius of about twenty miles round Glasgow. Not because I think it’s better than other places, but because I totally understand the cultural nuances, so never have that ‘outsider’ feeling that you can still get even if you’ve lived in a place for a long time.

    • Oh, that’s really interesting, FictionFan, and completely understandable. The feeling of belonging – of membership in a group – really can make you feel like ‘home,’ even if family members aren’t there. And each place has its own unique culture, social ‘rules’ and way of speaking. Little wonder that you feel most at home when you’re near (or in) Glasgow. Once a ‘Weegie,’ always a ‘Weegie,’ so I’ve heard.

  9. This is a good one, in my opinion — a clever theme and to the point.

    Perhaps, being inspired by Bill Joel helped? 🙂

  10. I’ve lived in a lot of places, Margot, but consider my home here in Colorado — that original Illinois farm where I grew up is gone, nothing but a corn field there, so it’s home only in memory. I suspect if I moved again, “home” would move with me.

    One thing I love in all my reading is setting — some writers do this so well that I instantly know if I could ever call that place home or not.

    • I’m with you, Pat, about a good sens of place in a story. That matters to me, too, and I do notice if it’s not there. It’s interesting too how you can feel a sense of home in an adopted place (i.e. you don’t really think of that Illinois farm as home any more). I wonder if certain places make it easier to do that than others. I honestly have the feeling that there are certain places I’d find it very difficult to consider ‘home.’ Hmmmm…..interesting ‘food for thought,’ for which thanks.

  11. Margot, this is a lovely post and I’m with Col all the way. For me home is family and vice versa. Where my family is, there my home would be.

    • Thank you, Prashant. And I think it makes perfect sense to consider family and home as more or less the same thing. You may move house, but your new place will still be home if your family is there.

  12. Home is where you put the kettle on.

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