Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Comparing Travelogues

In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit to being a serial reader. Not the trilogies or Harry Potter juggernaut, although I have dabbled in the consecutive genre. No, it's more like a lack of focus and I start one book before I have finished the last. At any one time I may be reading as many as six.

So it was that I recently found myself reading two travelogues simultaneously quite by accident. I had been meaning to read Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier for some time and checked it out and dove in. But alas, I had to go to the mall and there's a book store there! And didn't I leave with several under my arm, one of which was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by new author Rachel Joyce. It hooked me over lunch in the food court and I was off. (At about the same time Marie purchased Harold Fry for the library.)

Cold Mountain is set in the American Civil War and follows the path of W.P. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, who walks away from the war back to his home in the Blue Mountains and to Ada Monroe, the woman he loved. Since he is a defector, Inman must use his wits to outsmart the marauding Home Guard, aiding and being aided by slaves and farmers along the way. Interwoven is Ada's tale of trying to revive her deceased father's derelict farm with the able assistance of a local girl, Ruby. Although Ada and Inman attempt to correspond with each other the only one who benefits from their letters is the reader as they never connect.

So Inman's journey is a lonely, uncertain one--uncertain of success and, even, if Ada is still on the farm and waiting for him. And such is the climate that, should he succeed in reaching Cold Mountain, his deserter status will prevent him from settlng in.

Harold Fry's journey begins innocently enough in his village in the south of England (Kingsbridge) when he steps out to mail a note of encouragement to a dying colleague who is in hospice 600 miles away at the northern tip of the country. A chance encounter along the way convinces him that his friend, Queenie, will live as long as it takes him to deliver the note in person. So he keeps walking.

Harold is woefully ill-prepared for the excursion--recently retired, dressed only in tennis shoes and a light jacket, unfamiliar with the rigours of long-distance walking and sleeping in the elements. It turns out his journey is as much an escape as a destination. His long marriage to Maureen has stalled in an unhappy quagmire and neither seems to know how to get out. But neither has found the reason to end it and move on.

Along the way Harold encounters the good and bad elements of society but on the whole, most are decent and helpful. His travels force him to revisit the highs and lows in his life, and as he and Maureen begin to talk again, the immaterial falls away.

I won't give away either ending except to say that both men complete their journeys. And both books, in their own way, are an excellent read.  

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