Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Do I recommend you read this book? Yes and no.

It is not a book for the easily distracted, the person who gets bored by wordiness, the one who needs ” ” to enclose dialogue, or the person who reads fast (i.e. me)

It is also a movie with Jude Law…and that movie is really good and does the book justice – for once.

But despite all of the above I have to praise this novel because I’d be a damn fool if I didn’t. The book is startling in it’s complexity and unusual writing style. It is unlike anything I have ever read.

Actually, that isn’t true. It sort of reminded me of Virginia Woolf or James Joyce. Or both. When VW wrote her first novel, everyone freaked out because she was writing in a way that no one had ever thought of before. I think the same thing happened when Joyce wrote Ulysses. No could make heads or tales of Ulysses. For all you less than literate types, it was based on Homer’s Odyssey.

Charles Frazier was certainly drawing parallels between Ulysses/Odyssey and Cold Mountain. The story alone makes that obvious.  But, and this is only in my opinion, while I think he was imitating JJ and VW’s writing styles when he wrote Cold Mountain, he wasn’t copying exactly, so Frazier’s book definitely has the flavor of uniqueness about it.

It’s a gorgeous book set in the middle of the Civil War. It follows Inman, a disillusioned soldier marching across North Carolina, hellbent on getting home to Ada, his pre-war sweetheart who he has not seen in three years. Meanwhile, left alone, Ada, a society girl who hasn’t any idea how to take care of herself in the backwoods of Cold Mountain, is struggling to learn how to farm and hunt and stuff like that.

The two make their way towards each other as the story unfolds; Inman by hoofing it back to her and Ada by learning how to make it on her own. The characters they gather around them are colorful and fascinating. This is where the Odyssey really stands out. Each character has a special purpose to Inman, enabling him to keep traveling homeward. As for Ada, the characters in her world are there to keep her from collapsing in loneliness and grief. They teach her how to take care of herself, allowing her to grow as a woman and a survivor.

Reading the book is a rich experience. The descriptions are enthralling and the storyline takes a variety of twists and turns. If you’ve seen the movie, then you know how it ends.

So yes. The book is a difficult read because of its style. If you can’t get through it, I wouldn’t blame you. I had to sl-o-ooo-w way down to read this book. I also had to read it someplace where I could really focus. But if you pick it up and give it a try, at least struggle through the first three chapters. The first three are the most dense. After that, I swear it gets easier and more interesting.

And yes again. The book is totally worth the time and energy. It really is unlike anything else I have ever come across. It really is the most gorgeous writing. Some of Frazier’s lines are just sheer magic.Below is a sample of one of my favorite parts. Ada is remembering she and Inman’s goodbye before he went off to war.

Excerpt:

Ada lacked experience in having her apologies rejected, and her first thought was to turn and walk down the steps and put Inman forever behind her. But what she said was, We might never speak again, and I don’t plan to leave that comment standing in place of the truth. You’re not owning up to it, but you came with expectations and they were not realized. Largely because I behaved contrary to my heart. I’m sorry for that. And I would do it differently if given the chance to go back and revise.

-That’s not a thing any of us are granted. To go back. Wipe away what later doesn’t suit us and make it the way we wish it. You just go on.

Inman still stood with his arms crossed and Ada reached out and touched where his shirt cuff came out from his coat sleeve. She held the cuff between finger and thumb and pulled until she unlocked his arms. She touched the back of his hand, tracing with one finger the curving course of a vein from knuckle to wrist. Then she took his wrist and squeezed it hard, and the feel of him in her hand made her wonder what the rest of him would be like.

~pg 203

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