Tag Archives: quest

‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce

When Harold Fry leaves his house to post a letter, he has no idea that he will not return for 87 days or that he will walk 627 miles all the way across the country! With only the shoes on his feet and the clothes he is wearing, Harold embarks on a quiet gentle journey of self-discovery. His quest is to save someone’s life by sheer faith, hope and determination alone.

On a postcard to Queenie Hennessy at St. Bernadine’s Hospice in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, is written this:

“I am on my way. All you have to do is wait. Because I am going to save you, you see. I will keep on walking and you must keep on living. “   Harold Fry

This book is a simple story with some beautiful insights into human nature with all of its joys, vulnerabilities, sorrows, regrets and triumphs. Harold and Maureen are stuck in a rut where nothing changes and they hardly even speak to each other anymore. She criticizes everything he does and he is bored and unlikely to participate in any kind of adventure. And then Harold gets a letter in the mail.

Another great pick for book club! I was inspired by characters who are open to growth and change. The book caused me to reflect on my own life, love, and longings. It’s a journey I will not soon forget.

‘Bedtime Story’ by Robert J. Wiersema

A good old-fashioned adventurous quest always makes for a compelling read. Although this novel by Wiersema is an adult novel in terms of some of the content, it has a Young Adult “feel” to it. This story is part domestic drama, part supernatural thriller. There are two parallel worlds and two parallel casts of characters. There are lots of twists and turns and maybe a bit of delicious predictability as well, typical of an epic quest.

Christopher Knox discovers a mysterious book which he gives to his son David. While reading the book, his son suffers a seizure and is rendered comatose. What the reader knows is that David has emerged into another world where he is given a challenging quest to recover the sunstone for the King. His father, as yet unenlightened but on a journey to discover this, enters into a quest of his own to save his son. The story gives the phrase “this book draws me right in” a very literal new meaning! (Note: when you start reading don’t be confused by the fact that the boy is Matthew and not David. All will be made clear shortly).

Wiersema is a skillful author. Another book of his which I read is called ‘Before I Wake‘.  Since I read it long ago I can’t comment on it specifically, but I do remember enjoying it. In this story there is also a child in a coma, a daughter. Wiersema himself says that ‘Before I Wake‘ is a story about mothers and daughters and ‘Bedtime Story‘ is a novel about fathers and sons. However, the stories and themes are very different.

‘The History of Love’ by Nicole Krauss

Fourteen year old Alma is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Her mother is translating a book called “The History of Love” and Alma goes on a  quest to find the author.

Leo Gursky is an old man just trying to survive. His life has been a series of losses. Although he doesn’t know it yet, the book he wrote so long ago has survived, crossing oceans and changing lives…

Nicole Krauss often has writers as characters in her books. I’ve also read her most recent book ‘Great House‘ which was nominated for the Orange Prize (see Archive May 2011). She uses many of her own family details in her stories. ‘History of Love’ is dedicated to her grandparents. She is married to author Jonathan Safran Foer who wrote ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ (see Archive January 2012). There are some striking similarities between their books which were both published in the same year (2005). Both stories feature a young precocious child on a quest, both have old men mourning  the loss of sons, both have painful reverberations from the war in Europe, and both authors use some of the same unusual typography.

Krauss writes beautifully. Her descriptions are evocative and her characters are well portrayed right through to the soul. She captures the complexity of relationships and crafts a good story, although at times I find the thread in her books confusing and hard to follow. (When this happens a quick consultation on wikipedia is enough to keep me going; I’d rather put up with a spoiler and know what’s happening). She uses a common technique of alternating sections authored by different characters and what was helpful and enjoyable were the little icons at the start of the chapter indicating which narrator was coming up. In the end the pieces do come together.  The final words of the novel are haunting, “He was a great writer. He fell in love. It was his life.” The book begins with the same thought in the dedication, “For my grandparents, who taught me the opposite of disappearing and for Jonathan, my life.” This book is a celebration of life and love, which to quote Leo Gursky are “words for everything”.

‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ by Jonathan Safran Foer

A long time ago someone recommended this book to me. She said, “when you read it, I want to talk about it with you.” I must confess, it has taken me some time to get to it, but Laura, I’m ready to talk now. This book is so unusual and creative. It is an extremely good story and incredibly unique. It is funny and sad and moving and innovative.  It is an adventure story but also tackles the tough stuff like the problem of pain in our lives and the ways in which we deal with that.  The book has lots of pictures, and I love picture books.

Oskar is nine years old and autistic. After his father is killed in the World Trade Center, Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet and embarks on a quest to discover the lock which fits this mysterious key. Oskar is extremely smart and incredibly brave. He is an inventor and his imagination is unstoppable. It is so much fun to dwell alongside the quirky thoughts in his head as he travels around NYC.  The author must have enjoyed inventing the unusual effects in his book. I’m not even sure I’ve figured them all out, so I’m glad I can ask him myself when I attend a writers’ conference in April. What has me stumped are the six doorknob pictures and their exact significance. It feels like a riddle of my own to solve. Please comment if you’ve read the book and have it figured out.

One important thing to know is that there are two story lines in addition to Oskar’s. The chapters entitled “Why I’m Not Where You Are” are letters written by Thomas’ father explaining his reasons for returning to Germany before Thomas was born. The chapters entitled “My Feelings” are a letter from Oskar’s grandmother, explaining some things in her life.

Here is the trailer for the movie starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Although I haven’t seen the movie yet, I have a sense that some of the literary techniques will be lost in the movie as well as the opportunity to enter Oskar’s head. But it’s still a cracking good story either way.