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Summary

In pioneer Nebraska, a woman leads where no man will go.

Soon to be a major motion picture directed by Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman is a devastating story of early pioneers in 1850s American West. It celebrates the ones we hear nothing of: the brave women whose hearts and minds were broken by a life of bitter hardship. A "homesman" must be found to escort a handful of them back East to a sanitarium. When none of the county’s men steps up, the job falls to Mary Bee Cuddy - ex-teacher, spinster, indomitable and resourceful. Brave as she is, Mary Bee knows she cannot succeed alone. The only companion she can find is the low-life claim jumper George Briggs. Thus begins a trek east, against the tide of colonization, against hardship, Indian attacks, ice storms, and loneliness - a timeless classic told in a series of tough, fast-paced adventures.

In an unprecedented sweep, Glendon Swarthout’s novel won both the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award and the Western Heritage Wrangler Award. A new afterword by the author’s son Miles Swarthout tells of his parents Glendon and Kathryn’s discovery of and research into the lives of the oft-forgotten frontier women who make The Homesman as moving and believable as it is unforgettable.

©2014 Glendon Swarthout (P)2013 Simon & Schuster

What listeners say about The Homesman

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The Reality of Winning the West

This version of the story is better than the movie. The narratation is clear and draws you in to the tale. It makes more sense than the film but is also more hardhitting. It isn't surprising that some critics refer to this as the first feminist western - but it might be better to refer to it as the first nihilist Western. Happy Ending Territory this ain't.

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Much better than the film

Where does The Homesman rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

One of the best novels I have purchased this year. The story is unusual and full of fascinating historical detail about a time and place I was utterly unaware of.

What did you like best about this story?

The premise that in the appalling conditions in which the first settlers in the West endured sent many of them literally mad

Have you listened to any of Candace Thaxton’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No, but I certainly will watch out for her as I thought she was quite execllent

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

There is a film of this book, and I reckon the tag line should be " not as good as the book"

Any additional comments?

Having seen the film and thoroughly enjoyed it I was interested to listen to the book. Having said that what I was delighted to find was that the book itself was a hundred times better than the film, and filled in all the details which I felt were week in the film.

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Captivating Homesman

lLoved it ! Completely transported me to the vast frontier with all its challenges excellent

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  • Marina
  • 27-04-14

hugely disappointing

This begins as an interesting inversion of the western formula, with a strong spinster rancher carting four madwomen home to the east. She co-opts a rascally claim-jumper, after saving his life, and the crew sets off. So far, excellent. But Swarthout betrays this promise by abandoning the strong woman (after first negating his own creation by making her turn weak and silly) and switching point of view to the claim-jumper. The four madwomen, whose backstories are painstakingly detailed, are slammed into a box and never speak or act with volition again; they're no longer characters but just Woman 1, 2, 3, 4. I won't do a spoiler, but Swarthout cripples his own book by killing off a vital character in a ridiculous denial of everything the character is about, and then lets the story dwindle off for ages in a diminishing, eternal, and very disappointing denouement. This is not a book for women listeners, especially any who might identify either with a strong self-sufficient woman or a woman who's gone insane after dealing with fate, winter, and idiots.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Janice
  • 02-03-14

Riding into a different sunset

For the greater part of this story I was sure I knew where it was going, and felt a bit disappointed that it was going to be another “feisty woman paired with truculent man on a difficult trek across country” kind of western. We all know how it turns out before the credits start rolling. The back stories of the four women whose minds and spirits broke in the face of unbearable hardships and in some cases sorrows, were touching and heartbreaking. But on the journey itself, through the silence of their brokenness (none of them can talk), they have little impact on the narrative, making them nearly invisible. That leaves Mary Bee and Briggs to carry the drama, and for 3/4 of the story, it was pretty standard western movie stuff.

Then with two hours left to read, a wrecking ball hits and all bets are off. Suddenly we are forced to reevaluate our perceptions of both Mary Bee and Briggs, and realize that the clues were there all along. Mary Bee was the more fully created of the two characters – Briggs remains somewhat of an enigma through to the end. But I expect that was the point - perhaps even he didn’t fully understand himself. The twist, as shocking as it is, fits. In my opinion, that’s where this story finally rises above the “off into the sunset” westerns.

The writing throughout is descriptive and visual. The wagon they travel in almost becomes one of the characters. But the dialogue is less effective, feeling stiff and forced. In fairness, that may be more of a factor of the narrator. There was always that hearty frontierswoman sound that failed to capture the more subtle, complex moods and emotions of the characters. I was always aware of being read to. Dropped a point off the overall enjoyment.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Taryn
  • 02-12-14

Interesting topic, great for discussion

I read this book a year ago and it was suggested for my book club. I didnt want to read it again so I listened the second time around. I enjoyed the audio better than the hard copy. It's an interesting story about a topic I didn't think much about before - women on the prairie who had mental breakdowns. I found it to be a fascinating subject. It was a great bookclub choice and generated excellent discussion. I was looking forward to seeing the movie, but it never seemed to make it to the movie theatres. This story makes you very thankful for living in modern times!

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  • Sharon
  • 17-04-14

Wait, What? The story disintegrates 3/4 way in.

Listening to this in the beginning, I was thinking what a great story it was - honest and with a wonderful main female character. But then 3/4 the way through she does something so out of line from her character that it left me frustrated and wondering if the book was finished by another author. I wasn't expecting a rosy ending to the story or a neat finish, since life is rarely that tidy, but I expected an ending that respected the great characters that were created in the beginning of the story. It could have been one of my favorites. Very disappointed.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Nana
  • 04-03-14

Great story but the end was a huge diappointment

I cant believe with all that great writing it ended with a whimper. Really left me borderline angry that I got involved in reading it. It's like have a rich dessert that you are willing to risk the calories on because it's such a work of art and all the layers bring bursts of flavor. Then suddenly you bite into something that nearly breaks a tooth. Then the rest of the dessert just melts into mush while you're still trying to figure out what happened.

7 people found this helpful

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  • keasha
  • 30-09-14

Great until 3/4 of the way in..then it fell apart

What a great story with super characters. The story was moving along nicely, then the author totally changed the entire story line. Confused and disappointed.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Marjorie
  • 14-04-14

Adventure, Prose, History - Fantastic

This book not only describes the hardships of the pioneers traveling the American West but it also provides the reader an adventure of unparalleled surprises. I did not want this book to end. I grew to respect and enjoy the female protagonist, Mary, and did not want to let her go when the book ended. It was refreshing to read a book of the Western frontier showing more of the female and family perspectives. The male protagonist was full of surprises with a character that continued to evolve until the end. It is difficult to write a review that could capture the beauty of this book without "spoiling" the plot. In summary, I like historical fiction if the storyline is interesting and fast paced while keeping the reader immersed in history and this book's got it. I highly recommend this book, it's a wild ride packed with adventure and with beautiful prose allowing the reader to experience the rugged beauty and complexities of the situations presented. Whether you like historical fiction or not, this book is a fantastic story.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Kathi
  • 14-02-14

Tribute to the sacrifices of pioneer women

Here is a novel that touches on one of the less known tragedies in the lives of courageous pioneer women. Glendon Swarthout has given us a very compelling story of the fate of a few women unable to withstand the almost unbelievable pressures and sacrifices of life after leaving all that was dear and familiar to move west with their husbands.

As the story unfolds we hear the back stories of four women who were unable to withstand the fear, the losses, the demands and incredible loneliness they suffered--often with no one to help them. In this story, the practical-minded and compassionate local minister has decided to help the women get back east, to either family or asylums. But finding someone to take the time to make the trip proves challenging. Finally the local school teacher, Mary Bee Cuddy, undertakes to make the journey. Realizing that she can't do it alone, makes a bargain with a criminal to help him stay alive in return for his assistance in getting them across the country. Those who took on this sad task were known as "homesmen."

The entire story is fascinating, though sometimes painful to listen to, but brings insight into the price paid by those who relocated to the west in the 1850's. The character development is very good--including the insensitivity of some husbands (not all) whose wives are afflicted with madness--or just giving up on living as a result of almost inhuman conditions they faced. Where I think it might be a bit romanticized is the way Cuddy and the criminal--who calls himself George Briggs--meet each other. That seemed a bit contrived, but it served to unite the most unlikely people to face an arduous journey crossing the country with four women suffering with severe mental illness.

A very poignant scene occurs when they meet a wagon train going west, and Cuddy would like to allow the women to meet and talk to the women from the other group, but is turned away, for fear their husbands would see the possible outcome of taking their wives into a life of great hardship that might leave them devastated before they even arrive.

This is a good book. I liked the narration, I liked the story. It almost seems written to have been made into a film, and I look forward to seeing it when that occurs! Highly recommend!

6 people found this helpful

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  • Debbie
  • 28-07-14

Could've Been Great, Ended Up Barely Good

I had been looking forward to listening to this story about four pioneer women who lost their minds out west after enduring horrifying hardships. I totally "bought into" the story, loved it, felt for the women and the men who loved them and had to send them back east, back home to heal. Mary Bee, a strong homesteader, who offers to take the mad women back east when the husband who drew lots refuses to go, is ahead of her time, knows how to shoot and defend herself, cares for her livestock, and is independent and unafraid. A woman of strong character, who loves the women she is transporting, respects them, and cares for them with dignity, and is traveling along with a man whom she has hired to help her . . . a man who is self-serving, a claim jumper, who failed to complete his service to his country, but who perhaps deep down has a shred of decency . . . all I can say is that it's a dirty rotten shame that the author decided to go off on a wild goose chase and take the story out "in the weeds" and rob the book of GREATNESS. It left me disgusted, not fulfilled. This one did not meet my criteria of providing an ending worth waiting for . . . it was a dud.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Jean
  • 31-07-14

Heartbreaking story

This is a different type of western tale. The story deals with the problems of mental illness in the western frontier of the 1870’s. Mental illness and severe depression was a major problem on the prairies in the 1800s much of it was blamed on the isolation suffered by the women for long periods of time.

In this story the author tells the tale of women living in sod huts during a severe winter with brutish husbands who treat them like beasts of burden, with children who die wholesale from diphtheria and other infectious diseases and going through childbirth alone. Swarthout tells of Mary Bee Cuddy a 30ish spinster, tough as nails, who has a nice homestead near Loup, in the Nebraska Territory. Cuddy will take four insane women to a town at the Iowa-Nebraska border where a minister’s wife will see they go back to their families or to an asylum. Mary B takes along “Cull” to help her on the trip, after she saved him from a lynching.

Homespun was first printed in 1988 and rereleased in 2014. Swarthout characters are heart-wrenchingly believable because they are drawn from true-life pioneer experiences. The author‘s prose flows smoothly, but with a dangerous undercurrent. I understand this book was made into a movie, first in 1988 starring Paul Newman and again in 2014. The current movie stars Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank. The woman who takes the ill women is played by Meryl Streep. Four other Swarthout books have been made into movies by John Wayne. Swarthout writes across a number of genres but it is his western that were made into movies. Swarthout died in 1992. Candace Thaxton did an excellent job narrating the book.

4 people found this helpful