Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars Edelweiss without the Sacharine, 24 May 2012
This review is from: Cleaver (Paperback)
The subject matter of this novel - a middle-aged famous TV journalist fleeing to a remote Alpine village to escape the pressures of his personal and professional life - sounded so much like a literary luvvy Hampstead set product that I almost put it back on the shelf.

However, I am glad I did not as I found it one of the most interesting books I have read in a long time.

Spoiler. I'm going to mention the plot but as it is not exactly a detective story this should not give too much away.

The main character - fat, bald 55 year-old Harold Cleaver* - is devastated when he reads an autobiographical novel in which his son portrays him as a selfish, phony lecher who never cared about his family and whose callous attitude led to the death of his pregnant daughter.

He is unable to cope with the fallout which occurs at what should have been the highlight of his professional life - an interview with the US President - and he rushes off the South Tyrol area of northern Italy. He aims to cut off all links and isolate himself from the world on top of a mountain.

However, he quickly finds that there is another side to the Alps than Julie Andrews and angelic children singing Edelweiss.

He ends up among the German-speaking community of mountain farmers and forest workers and becomes involved in their complicated Cold Comfort Farm goings-on. He quickly finds himself in a domestic situation that has eerie similarities to the one he has fled.

At first, he keeps wondering how his family and media colleagues are coping with his disappearance back in London but quickly goes to seed, physically and mentally.

This is the best part of the book as he has copes with the harsh environment of blinding snowstorms, freezing cold, plunging gorges with giant icicles hanging from rock faces, while forming new relationships in broken German and reliving his past life through his son's book.

Park obviously knows this part of the world and does a good job of conveying the primitive, pagan element that still exists alongside the Catholicism of Austria, Sud Tyrol and parts of Switzerland.

This is seen in the symbols that reflect the fears of people who have lived for centuries in isolation in a harsh, frightening environment where one wrong turning can lead to being swallowed up by a forest or falling off a cliff - the masks, trolls, grotesque carvings and the underlying mental disorder, incest and alcoholism.

The climax comes when Cleaver confronts his son and has to decide whether to go back or continue with his new life. It is the weakest part of the novel but as it occurs in the last few pages it does not spoil what is otherwise a fine book.

*The cover of my edition presents him as thin with a full head of hair that shows, once again, how publishers' marketing departments seldom actually read the books they are publicizing.
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