My mother in law loaned me this book after getting it from her sister in law. Auntie M stockpiles books and then passes them on to my MIL who (alongside my father in law) reads and disposes of them. They have a good system going. But not this time. This book was so good that, like the Ashes that the Aussie’s have nabbed, Auntie M wants it back.
Who can blame her? Kristin Hannah is the Number One New York Times best selling author of ‘The Nightingale’ – not a book that I have read, but having sampled the quality of her writing, I get it – I really do.
Hannah has a real knack for putting together a scene in a way that makes you feel it, smell it, see it. For whole swatches of time you live as though you are one of her characters, forming part of the backdrop as their stories play out around you.
The Great Alone centres on Lenora (Leni) Allbright who has moved to Alaska with her parents. Her father has PTSD from serving in Vietnam and takes it out on her mother with his fists. They think that by going to Alaska they will leave their troubles behind. Well, you can already guess how that’s going to go… Whilst they find that there is no running from themselves, they do discover something new and fall in love with the harsh wilderness and the Alaskan way of life. They come to see it as home. But Leni has learnt the hard way that home is not always the safe place it should be and that, for her family, there are no certainties, no happy ever afters.
What I loved about Hannah’s depiction was that almost every emotion was tinged with its opposite. There was intense love and seering hate all tied up with each other. Acceptance and frustration jostled for space inside the same person. Hannah has perfectly picked up on the constant pendulum of human emotion.
Equally striking is her portrayal of this young girl who is forced to grow up fast to try and protect her mother. Although, here I found Leni a little too compliant. I felt that any other kid in her situation would have been angrier with her parents for putting her in the position of miniature adult. Whilst Leni did betray annoyance at times with both her parents, it was far too short-lived and she was pacified far too easily by the evidence of their remorse. I don’t think kids are (or should be expected to be) this understanding. Also, whilst Hannah has clearly mastered the ability to delve into people’s emotions, I did feel some of these feelings were stated over and over. For emphasis I suppose, but I got to the point where I was like, OK I get it, he hits her but she still loves him, how many different ways do we need to say the same thing?!
But regardless of these minor niggles, this is a compelling, character led story set in a stunning landscape which Hannah painstakingly lays out for you. Definitely one not to be missed!
Next week’s book is one that you are probably familiar with. Join me on Monday when I tell you what I made of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.