Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone

Life has been so busy lately! Work has been a bit in the way of my reading, which means I’ve been only reading a bit before bed. Last week I finished The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I had never read anything by her before —or anything written after 1970 in a long while, for that matter—, but I would love to check out other novels by her!

How to best describe The Great Alone? This book is as tragic as it is hopeful. I read it because it’s about Alaska, a place that I’ve been dying to visit for two years or so. And the novel doesn’t disappoint in describing the hardships and wilderness of the Alaskan territoire, but it is much more about the strengh that can be found in ourselves when we’re confronted by the wilderness.

The plot of this novel could definitely be a thriller if narrated by Stephen King: an unstable father who takes his family to a remote location to “start over” and begins to slowly lose his mind. The focus of the novel is not, however, the unstable dad, but the mother and daughter who travel with him and who are extremely well-developed characters. Leni, the 13-year-old daughter, is one of the few teenagers in contemporary literature that didn’t sound fake or exasperating to me, but relatable and realistic.

Leni is dragged by her parents to a small settlement near Homer, Alaska. The many problems that her family has been going through since her dad came back from Vietnam—his alcoholism, bad temper and unemployement— seem to be maximised by the isolation, the lack of light and the hardships of the winter, a season that seems to last forever and to engulf everything in darkness in Alaska. Leni’s mother is also an unstable figure in the beginning, emotionally dependent of her husband. How the wilderness of the Alaskan landscape can break the spirits of some and make others find their own inner wilderness was, for me, the main theme of the novel, which is mostly a story of survival.

“Alaska isn’t about who you were when you headed this way. It’s about who you become.” 

Kristin Hannah, The Great Alone

Although Hannah’s novel dwells on many tragic themes: domestic violence, substance abuse, political extremism, death and loss, the strong and diverse portray of the female characters in the novel make a good counterpoint to the many tragedies that occur along the plot. I would say this portray of women, strong women who struggle, adventure, live and love fiercely, is the most accomplished aspect of the novel. Another thing I enjoyed a lot—though it gave me the chills many times— was the beautiful yet never romanticised depiction of the Alaskan landscape and seasons.

However, I did not like the last part of the novel as much. Not to spoil anything if you haven’t read it, the last hundred pages were just too melodramatic for me, many things happened and the style of the narrative was inconsistent at times. But I really enjoyed the book! It was a pleasure to come home to it every night (why is it so nice to read of cold nights and family tragedies from one’s own cosy bed?). I’m very much looking forward to read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and to visit Alaska… in the summer.

Have you read The Great Alone? If so, I would love to hear what you thought of it! I’m currently reading One Day in December by Josie Silver and finding it delightfully funny.

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