The Wilderness Within: 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. Anyway, I managed to finish The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah last week. I had never read anything by her before —or anything written after 1970 in a long while, for that matter—, but I really want to check The Nightingale out now.

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. Nevertheless, the main focus of the novel is the seemingly impossible strengh and courage that people are capable of when confronted by wilderness and danger, and when motivated by love.

The plot of this novel could definitely be a thriller if it was 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. Both Leni and her mother learn to fend for themselves and each other, they come to realise their own strenght… in the most melodramatic way possible.

“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 catastrophes 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. The last hundred pages were just too melodramatic for me, many things happened and the style of the narrative was inconsistent at times. I think the last bits of the novel are too focused on making things happen to the characters, so a lot of “minor” tragedies allign around the main event of the ending, and it is just too much. Whatever greatness was accomplished in character developement throughout the first three quarters of the books just collapses in the last quarter. In fact, there were some bits of descriptive dialogue that seemed taken out of a soap opera.

Despite that, The Great Alone is a very enjoyable book, with its descriptions of the seventies fashion and haircuts, its wonderful rendering of Alaska and a sharp critic of right-wing extremism in the forgotten areas of the United States. 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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Adventures on the Page

Lately I have been so busy! During all those all-nighters at uni I thought I would never be so busy again. And here I am, finding that graduate life is twice as demanding (but also twice as rewarding). The biggest lesson I have learned from having a lot of things to do is that there is always some time for what we really care about. It’s all about priorities, and no matter how busy I think I am, I always make time for reading. I could not function otherwise.

The kind of reading that keeps me grounded at such hectic times is about adventures: people venturing into the great unknown, people doing amazing feats of courage, daring to walk their own path and march to the beat of their own drummer. It is amazing when books inspire us to be a better version of ourselves. And this post is about the kind of books that keep you up at night, give you the chills and almost make you leave the house in you pijamas in search for adventure, “that flighty temptress”.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I’ve hyped this book too much but I don’t care. It’s awesome, raw, unputdownable, honest and thrilling. I have yet to watch the movie. Strayed tells of her own experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as a young, unexperienced woman whose life is falling apart. This book is funny, angering, heartbreaking and liberating. If you like hiking, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Specially if you, like me, have struggled with hiking boots in the past.

A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson

This book is so funny! All it had me thinking was, if Bryson set out to hike the Appalachian trail at sixty, what the hell am I waiting for? Bill Bryson is the kind of person I would love to have as an uncle. This book is full of politically incorrect jokes and unglamorous truths about hiking. It is also full of wonder and amazement, I learned many things whil reading it and took a huge tbr list from it. Seriously recommended.

Travels With Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck

Is there anything Steinbeck couldn’t write about? Probably not. This is the story of how he set out on a road trip with his French poodle, Charley. As road stories go, this is one of my favourites.

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This book is beautiful in many different ways. Exupéry’s prose is delightful and his stories about his time as a pilot are incredible. He tells of a time when transatlantic flights were dangerous feats, of landings in the middle of snowstorms in Chili, of being all alone in a plane with nothing but desert plains below and blue skies above. This book is a descriptive wonder, and a beautiful reflection on why we humans crave adventures.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

A classic. I can honestly say this book changed my life, I still reread parts of it every now and then. I admire Jon Krakauer greatly for his journalistic abilities, but most of all for his understanding and sympathy with the subject of his book, the life of Christopher McCandless.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

This one I am currently reading and loving! Unlike the other books on this list, this is a novel. It’s the story of a family that moves to Alaska in search for peace, but the wilderness pretty quickly turns their lives into a feat for survival. I can’t wait to finish it to write more about it.

Have you read any of these? Which adventures on the page would you recommend for me to read next?

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