Book reviews

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is a beautifully told story of misery.

The story was set during the American Civil War and alternately followed Inman as he surreptitiously travelled home to his farm on Cold Mountain after deserting the Confederate Army after being injured, and Ada, a minister’s daughter eking out a living on her father’s Cold Mountain farm.

Inman’s chapters began with him deserting his military hospital in the middle of the night. Gradually the reader learned that Inman had initially gone to war for adventure rather than because he believed in the South’s cause, but over the four years of the war he, like most of his fellow men, had had enough of death.

Inman’s journey was epic. At all times he had to hide from the Confederate Home Guard who were on the hunt for deserters, but he also had to fight and outsmart thieves who would have killed him for what little he had. At one point Inman prevented a preacher from killing a young woman whom the preacher had made pregnant. Later, the preacher caught up to Inman after being beaten by his community after they learned what he had done, and they travelled together until the preacher’s lust got him into trouble again, but throughout most of his journey Inman travelled alone. He starved most of the time but occasionally was fed or assisted by those with kind hearts, who usually had very little to share. Sometimes he had to watch out for bears.

Back on Cold Mountain, Ada had found herself completely unfit for living on a farm after her father’s death. He had always paid others to work the farm and when her money ran out, Ada starved for want of practical knowledge. Ada might have returned to Charleston to throw herself on the mercy of distant relatives, but when Ruby, a poor, uneducated woman arrived on her doorstep it was the saving of Ada. With Ruby’s knowledge they worked together to make the farm productive and in turn, Ada shared her ‘book’ stories with Ruby.

Before the war Inman and Ada’s relationship had been slight, although they had been attracted to each other and Inman had given Ada a photograph of himself as a keepsake. They had written to each other during the war years and during his long journey home, Inman had a sense that he was returning to Ada.

The Native American history of Cold Mountain was woven into the story, and the reader was made aware that the country these characters lived in first belonged to the Cherokee and Creek people who had been displaced from the area. Slavery was always in the background too and sometimes in the foreground, such as when a character asked if he thought the war to protect the plantation owners’ right to own slaves and become rich had been worthwhile to the many poor men who fought and died for the Confederate Army.

The story was very eventful and I liked how Inman’s more adventurous journey was balanced with Ada’s domestic hard work and learnings.

Frazier’s writing is very good. Although I didn’t like the punctuation style of dashes being used for dialogue, the dash style did suit the time the story was set and the character’s dialect which was usually brief and very direct.

I’m glad I hadn’t seen the film of the same name before reading Cold Mountain, as I can’t imagine Nicole Kidman as Ada, Renee Zellweger as Ruby or Jude Law as Inman. I’m sure I’ll watch the film sometime and that I will enjoy it, but I liked reading the book and imagining these characters in my own way.

Comments on: "Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier" (15)

  1. I would cast Christian Bale as Inman

    • My mental picture of Inman was dark-haired and gaunt, so I can imagine Christian Bale in the role too. No doubt when I actually watch the movie I’ll like those who are in it, though.

  2. This one has been on my TBR for ages, ever since I read and enjoyed another novel of his, Nightwoods, which actually sounds quite similar in some respects to this one. Glad you enjoyed it, and I really must see if I can fit it in before too much more time passes!

  3. Actually I have seen this film but the book sounds a very good read. A beautifully told story of misery is a lovely line Rose.

  4. Interesting review, not sure if I will ever read the book – haven’t seen the film either – but I appreciate reading about it.

    • Cold Mountain didn’t appeal to me either, but for some reason I grabbed it while I was racing around the library before Melbourne’s most recent Covid lockdown struck, then felt as if I had to read it since I can’t bear to return books I haven’t even opened.

  5. I read this years ago and remember being surprised that I liked it because Civil War stories don’t usually appeal to me. I’ve never seen the movie either but have trouble picturing Jude Law in that role!

    • I say that too, but when I think about it I’ve read a few novels set around the Civil War. Gone With the Wind, The Beguiled and Little Women spring to mind. To be fair, none of them are actually ‘war’ stories (battles, and the like) which I probably wouldn’t read.

  6. I think I enjoyed it – I remember enjoying the evening! Good points about Civil War stories, I must read this. . .

  7. I read this back in 1999, and I enjoyed it, but didn’t rave over it. It was an enjoyable read. I like civil war stories. I also saw the film and remember liking it too, but that was back in 2003 so I can’t really recollect the details, and how much I think it did or didn’t reflect the book. I do think Nicole Kidman often gets a bad wrap. I think she’s a good actor. And Renee, and Jude Law.

    • Yes, Nicole Kidman often gets a bad rap, but I think she’s great, too. None of the actors matched my mental images of the characters from the book, but no doubt I’ll watch the film sometime and like them in the roles.
      I would read another book by Charles Frazier but based on how sad this story was would pick my time to read it as it probably wasn’t a great choice for a cold, locked down Melbourne winter! Happy, light reads would probably suit me better at present.

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