Salina by Laurent Gaudé translated by Alison Anderson
Salina is three times a mother, although her sons never meet. The first is the product of marital rape; the second a miraculous manifestation of her rage. The third is a token of reconciliation who must relate her story for her body to be accepted into an island cemetery.
The simple prose perfectly portrays a legendary desert landscape and a timeless story of misogyny and scapegoating. But it’s also distancing, and is less successful in the first third of this novella, featuring a pilgrimage of an (at that point) unknown mother and son. Thanks to publishers Europa editions for what was ultimately an enjoyable read.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
He’s got it in his head he can keep an old friend alive by walking through England to her hospice. He feels indebted to Queenie Hennessy for her kindness to him twenty years ago. Yet part of him knows the whole enterprise is ridiculous. As Maureen, his wife, says, he never usually walks further than the car.
As Harold battles blisters, scorching sun and bitter rain, Maureen stays at home, missing him. Loneliness is an opportunity for both to reflect on their long marriage, their troubled son, David, and the crisis that banished love from their home. While only Harold is on a geographical journey – although Maureen does drive to Darlington with neighbour Rex to try to persuade him home – both travel further than they’ve ever done in their hearts and minds.
Although I can’t believe Harold survived the trek in yachting shoes, I agree with the hype about this 2012 bestselling book. Rachel Joyce has pulled off a remarkable feat in telling a whimsical story with genuine emotional depth. I liked how his mood sinks and soars, as does his popularity once the press get hold of his story. He’s greeted with kindness, but his dishevelled appearance is also met with distaste.
It gives a refreshingly honest account of the legacy of a loveless childhood, and how love turns to hate when tragedy splits couples apart. Although my emotionally-stunted character refuses to spend a night away from home, Harold’s rigidity and childhood damage reminds me of Henry in my forthcoming novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home.
Harold becomes more flexible, gaining self-acceptance and acceptance of others’ foibles too. But, although the couple come closer, there is a painful poignancy to their situation. While a story of hope and perseverance, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is also about irrevocable loss. Some mistakes cannot be rectified, but we keep going. That’s life.
This is Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, which I probably preferred to her second, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, the follow-up to Harold Fry telling the other side of the story. Perversely, I read them the wrong way round.
This week’s flash fiction challenge is to write a 99-word story about an escape. As I’ve been assembling a collection of the pieces I created from when I started work on Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, 6 ½ years ago when it was called something different, I couldn’t resist adding another one. Belatedly, I realise it’s about someone failing to escape. Never mind, we’re encouraged to go where the prompt leads.
Some set out on faraway adventures. Others keep watch for the wanderer’s return. Henry didn’t choose to be the one who waited, but families need an anchor in order not to sink.
Time ticked on. Henry fostered hope his sister would release him from the waiting game. His patience and loyalty would eventually reap rewards.
He lacked the mental flexibility to imagine an alternative ending. One where he possessed the power of escape. His emotions froze at six years old when she left him. Too small to reach the handle; too bruised to open the door and walk free.