Title: The Great Alone
Writer: Kristin Hannah
Publishing House: St. Martin’s Press
Date of Publication: February 6th 2018
Rating: 3 stars
‘’Outside, night had fallen. A full moon cast blue-white light on everything. Stars filled the sky with pinpricks and elliptical smears of light. Up here, at night, the sky was impossibly huge and never quite turned black, but stayed a deep velvet blue. The world beneath it dwindled down to nothing: a dollop of firelight, a squiggly white reflection of moonlight on the tarnished waves.’’
The Allbright’s seem a typical American family trying to find its way in a nation tarnished by the effects of the Vietnam War, in a society that undergoes significant changes. Ernt, Cora and their teenage daughter, Leni. Ernt, a veteran of the war, suffers from PTSD turning what should be a family haven into a battlefield of turmoil, threats and ferocious insecurity. Dissatisfied with his country, surrendering to his absurd notions of how a country should be governed, he drags his family into the Last Frontier. Alaska. A place of unimaginable beauty and danger. Everything changes for Leni, Cora and the residents of what seemed like the ideal, closely-knit community because of one man’s madness and vicious character.
(image source: http://www.alaska.org/detail/alaska-nature-guides)
I am sorry to say that this novel left me cold and disappointed…
There is no doubt that the premise of the story is interesting and realistic. The descriptions of the Alaskan nature are breathtakingly beautiful and there are quite a few elements that made me feel invested in the story of the Allbright family initially. This historical era is one that always attracts my interest and Hannah did a good job transferring it into the heart of the narration. All the familiar 70s trademarks have been put into good use. The search for a spiritual destination, the notion of Unitarianism, the rallies for peace. The yet unnamed ‘’don’t show, don’t tell’’ PTSD, the IRA attacks, the Watergate, the nightmarish terrorist attack during the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972.
In this background, enriched by many 70s cultural references, Hannah poses a major question: where does patriotism, the honest, peaceful love for one’s country end and nationalism, racism and mass hysteria begin? How can women respond and defend themselves in an era when men still think they rule everyone’s fate? The inseparable bond between a mother and a daughter, two survivors of a man’s madness, is hauntingly beautiful, seen through the eyes of Leni, a bookish girl and one of the most well-composed characters in Contemporary Literature. However, I’m afraid this is where my positive thoughts on this novel end…
The dialogue suffers from a number of cliches, in my opinion. Stilted and exaggerating like a cheesy Hollywood film. Repetition didn’t do any favours to the continuation of the story. This is my main complaint with this novel. How many chapters do you need to say the same things again and again? A writer doesn’t properly build tension in such a way. The only thing it made me feel was irritation and a deep desire to read the end and abandon the book altogether. I could have skipped pages after pages and I wouldn’t have missed anything at all. The way many chapters ended seemed like the old lingering take on a protagonist’s ridiculously lost expression in a soap opera. Not my ideal picture of an interesting book. On a side note, the references to The Thorn Birds and the friendship between Frodo and Sam were melodramatic, cheesy and irritating. In my opinion.
In terms of characterization, I wasn’t impressed at all. With the exception of Leni (whose romantic story was laughably bad), the rest of the characters left me utterly indifferent. I quickly lost patience with Cora. I mean, girl, you don’t want to lose face or you really enjoy Ernt’s you-know-what. That’s fine as long as you are alone. But being blinded by your illusions and shoving your ridiculous excuses to your daughter’s mind do little to ensure her safety. I didn’t buy any of Cora’s musings. Call me heartless, that’s my opinion. Despite the fact that she takes some action, her character is no figure to look up to. At least, not according to my standards. Ernt is a loony. Plain and simple. No justification, no pretext. The excuse of PTSD is quickly wasted. He is mad and that’s the end of it. Horrible character, written as a caricature to force drama. Don’t even get me started on Matthew and Large Marge because we’ll be here until Doomsday…
This novel is begging to become a Hollywood production. Unfortunately, I seldom watch these and ‘’Hollywood’’ books are absolutely not to my liking. I’m certain that somewhere deep inside those pages, beyond all this repetition and drama, lies a perfectly good book and many trusted friends loved it. This is the reason why I grant 3 stars and not 2 (not that it matters but for argument’s sake…). For the beauty of the Alaskan territory and the character of Leni and for the fact that I was not the suitable reader for this book. I am sorry but family melodramas that try to force my feelings are not for me…