"Cold Mountain" by Charles Frazier

I picked up this book at the library sale table knowing only that it had been made into a well-liked movie and, as the cover proudly proclaims with a shiny gold seal, that it had won the (American) National Book Award. I thought it might be a pleasant bedtime diversion, but it turned out to be a rather meaty evening snack. Unfortunately, with my casual approach, I didn’t take any notes so my impression of the book is supported only by my unreliable and unorganized memory.

There was much scope for creative writing in this work, what with colourful Southern expressions and slang, but even landscape descriptions and the thoughts of the more erudite characters featured pleasantly unusual and evocative metaphors. As a biologist/nature freak/outdoorsy type, I was of course enamoured of the significant attention devoted to natural history and nature craft (huntin’ ‘n’ fishin’ ‘n’ sleepin’ rough). I’ll never forget Ruby deriding Ada for not being able to distinguish the sounds of the leaves of different trees moving in the breeze, and in autumn, when such sounds are most easily distinguished. (After reading that I actually started paying attention to sounds of the different trees where I live.)

I found Ruby very interesting, mainly for her encyclopedic knowledge of nature, survival, and homesteading, and for her ultra-pragmatic approach to life. Unfortunately she came off a little one-dimensional—a supporting character by nature—the only signs of feeling appearing when she nearly lost her wastrel father. Ada too seemed a little devoid of depth, and although the book divides its time pretty equally between her story and Inman’s, the book is really about him. The story can probably be boiled down to one man wondering if war had completely destroyed his humanity, and if so, could the woman he loved bring it back? For those who haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I won’t spoil the ending except to say that the answers to Inman’s questions were perhaps, but if so, apparently yes.

Now I will have to see the movie and find out if it is a faithful reflection of the book. I have been assured that one of my favourite characters, the Goatwoman, made it into the movie. I hope the fourth main character in the book, nature, got more than a cameo appearance. I’ll find out just as soon as Toshiba decides to give me back my unwell DVD/VCR. This has not been my week for technology (I now dream about endlessly connecting and unconnecting computers) but that just makes the robust technology of the book more comforting. Even Inman carried a beat up book throughout his travels, curled and tied into a roll, to soothe him in his pain and loneliness. I don’t compare my situation with his, but when technology lets me down and gets me down, books are my Goatwoman—healing, nurturing, and setting me on my way again.