Surviving Alaska in The Great Alone || BOOK REVIEW

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

5/5 STARS

Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: January 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 440 {paperback}

Review on Goodreads

this review is spoiler-free


Initial Thoughts Upon Finishing

**Thank you Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!**

So that was amazing. Kristin Hannah is absolutely, hands-down one of my favourite historical fiction authors – if not my favourite, full stop. I had no idea what to expect from The Great Alone going into it because it’s a very different story to her other book I’ve read, The Nightingale. And I was blown away. I laughed, I cried, I very nearly threw the book across the room several times but damn, this woman knows how to write a story.


The Great Alone

I cannot express how excited I was to receive a copy of this by my most beloved author, Kristin Hannah. I’m a huge fan, so call me biased but this review is going to be full of praise. FULL OF IT I SAY. This is historical fiction but centred predominantly around a struggling family with the backdrop of Alaska — the historical aspects are mostly only important in setting up Ernt (the dad) with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from the Vietnam War.

The story follows the life of Leni — the daughter of Cora and Ernt who struggles to settle in anywhere because since her dad came back from Vietnam they’ve always moved about as though their location would solve the issue. It’s a fascinating story of how a family sticks together and braves the storms when things aren’t right. But it’s also utterly heart-breaking to see the damage those storms do. They end up moving to Alaska and “going back to nature” and this is really where the story begins.

Initially, it seems as though the fresh start and manual, hands-on life style of their new home is making Ernt more manageable. At this point we understand that in his anger he becomes violent — so it’s nail-biting anticipation of what’s to come.

The story, of course, is not a happy fairytale however. So we are watching Leni suss out how to be in a family that is dysfunctional, scary and unhealthy for her but without having any means to really leave. Hannah has done a wonderful job of spinning a tale of misunderstood PTSD, family troubles and a self-discovery.


Hannah’s Amazing Characters

One of my favourite things (and the reason I will throw Hannah’s books at you) is how well she writes characters. Now, this has been said by many a person before but Hannah is the QUEEN of writing amazingly realistic characters.

The story has so much more OOMF to it because of how tangible, how real and how alive her characters. If I happened to run into Leni on the street I wouldn’t think twice about it. Of course she’s real! Kristin Hannah wrote her.

It is absolutely one of the highlights of this book (as well as all her others). So if you want to really feel the emotions of this book and really get inside the character’s heads, this is the book for you.


Family Themes

The family themes in this story are so well done. I found Cora to be such an interesting character. Where her loyalties lie between loving Ernt and putting up with his abuse, vs the safety of Leni was always a grey area. She was, by far, the most interesting character to nut out but also the one that weirdly held the family together.

I really enjoyed the exploration into how much can a family endure before it’s time to pack it in — both through the family we’re following but also through Leni’s own mental conceptions of how relationships work when she meets boys, herself. It’s very, very well done.


Violent Themes

There are some seriously violent themes in this book. If you are in anyway triggered by domestic abuse, verbal abuse, death, mental depression, PTSD, serious injuries and other things along this line . . . maybe this isn’t the book for you.

It really does get quite horrific. It’s one of those books where you think it’s not going to get worse and then, holy fuck it does. Hannah has such an amazing way of writing about these things, though. I cannot express how frustrated I was reading it just wanting to scream at Ernt, Cora or anyone to be like GET LENI OUTTA THERE!

SPOILER [highlight to read]:When they finally killed Ernt and bloody dump his body into a frozen river. Well, shit. That’s all I gotta say.


Alaska

I have to quickly mention how much I also enjoyed the setting of Alaska! I’ve read a couple of books lately set here and each time I learn something new about it I’m keen as a bee to hop on a plane and go see it for myself. I really liked Hannah’s portrayal of it here — especially because she is familiar with the state and the land and was able to conjure up a brilliant mental image because of re-imaginings of places she knew and combining them together. My hat goes off to you ma’am, you did a wonderful job.


Summary

So yeah, my summary is GO READ THE BOOK. This is very different to The Nightingale but damn, is it just as good or what. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this book and I’m already jumping in my seat with excitement at what Hannah might publish next. Highly, highly, highly recommend.


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Happy Reading

~~ Kirstie ~~

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