Sunday, April 15, 2007

Cold Mountain

It is not often that I finish a book and want to start re-reading it immediately. It is not often that I am reduced to tears by a novel, that I feel so much a part of the world the author has created that I feel the characters' pain as though it is my pain. Part of me wants to not review Cold Mountain because how can I possibly explain the profound experience of reading it?

I'll try, because I want to tell people how much I loved this novel, but you will have to take some of my praise on faith because I don't think I can do Cold Mountain justice.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier takes place during the Civil War. Inman is a Confederate soldier who has experienced the horrors of some of the worst battles of the war. He begins the novel in hospital, recovering from a gun wound to the neck and is resolved to no longer fight in a war that he doesn't believe in. Therefore he begins his long, painful and dangerous journey back to his mountain home and to Ada, the woman he loves.

Frazier alternates between Inman's story and the story of Ada and her battle to survive on the home front. Ada's father has died leaving her alone and penniless on their farm. She finds a life of relative wealth has ill-prepared her for the subsistence lifestyle she must now face. Her saviour comes in the form of Ruby, a resourceful young woman whose tough, impoverished upbringing has prepared her well for these difficult times. The two women develop a close, symbiotic relationship that transcends their class differences and allows each woman to discover her ability to adapt and survive.

Frazier writes wonderfully about people and about the natural world. His work is meticulously researched, so that the reader feels intimately acquainted with the landscape that Inman passes through. His local knowledge is reminiscent of the novels of Annie Proulx in attention to detail. Frazier's descriptions are always fresh. He is a master of the simile in particular; snow and cold smell 'like sheared metal', snow comes down 'soft and fine like ground cornmeal falling from between millstones'.

Inman's journey through the countryside and his encounters along the way allow Frazier to show various aspects of the rural South and the effect that the war has had on it . Frazier touches on the issue of slavery, but his focus is on the effect of the war on those white Southerners who had little or nothing to begin with, the poor men who fought a war designed to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. Inman encounters ignorance, cruelty, eccentricity and kindness in the people who help, and hinder, his passage home. And all the time the prospect of his reunion with Ada, with whom he has a tentative but powerful connection, draws him on.

Cold Mountain is filled with an ache. It is the ache of Inman and Ada for each other, an ache for better times, times in which acts of random violence don't intrude on life with astonishing frequency. It is the ache of hunger and physical pain, the aching beauty of nature in its softness and its cruelty, the ache of hope and the ache of despair. This pain, this rawness, fills each page and made reading this novel such a powerful and moving experience. Cold Mountain effected me more powerfully than almost any other novel I have read. It is an amazing literary achievement, particularly considering it is Frazier's first novel. The beauty of his writing, the sensitivity of his characterisations and ultimately the irresistible pull of the narrative made this my new favourite novel and one which has raised the standards by which I will judge all other novels I read from now on.


missv said...

I bought myself a copy of this the other day inspired by your previous post.

jess said...

I hope you enjoy it!

Smithereens said...

Finishing Cold Mountain and wishing I could start all over again, I had the same experience as you!

sabine said...

I'm usually an avid re-reader, but after I read Cold Mountain ten years (reading into the small hours, dissolved into tears), I told myself I'd never, ever read it again. Not because it is bad, but because it is so utterly heart-wrenching. The ending is almost unbearably cruel.

My English is so much better now than it was ten years ago, though, that I'm sure I'd find a completely different book. It's still sitting on the bookshelf, all menacing and calm in its blue cover... Should I?