Book Review: Wild: A journey from Lost to Found

Thursday 4 June 2015 by

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found, Wild, Ceryl Strayed, Travel, Book, Atlantic BooksWild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed

Published by Atlantic Books

At twenty-six, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s rapid death from cancer, her family grew apart and her marriage soon crumbled. With seemingly nothing to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to walk eleven hundred miles of the west coast of America and to do it alone. She had no experience of long-distance hiking and the journey was nothing more than a line on a map. But it held a promise, a promise of piecing together a life that lay shattered at her feet…

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Picked for this month’s SYP Bookclub, it’s not often I choose non-fiction to read. But Wild had promise. Recently made in to a film starring Reese Witherspoon, I had at least heard of it before!

What I didn’t expect was such a beautifully written travel book. Cheryl, after the disintegration of her family, marriage and even self-confidence, decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail – the PCT. The trail snakes up the west coast of America – from the bottom to the top – and she decided to hike it alone.

This is one of those books that could easily be described as a “coming of age” story. Cheryl’s previous life has left her desperate (dabbles with heroine, adultery and other misdemeanours) and she decides that the PCT holds all the answers. In a strange way it does.

The narrative is interspersed with tales from the Trail and also moments from her previous life, unravelling it as she walks. There is – as you would expect – an awful lot of walking in this book. In a strange way, I found it comforting and recognisable. When walking Hadrian’s Wall earlier this year, I was similarly woefully underprepared for the strains of the journey, and I found kinship in her battle. Although I never camped outside, I found familiarity in those meditative moments – reminding me of the times when travelling when I sat outside at night and watched the sky. It is moments like those that make you realise the enormity of what you are doing, even if you undertook it with a flippant why-not.

Cheryl is a wonderful writer. She is visceral and honest, emotionally raw and delightfully comic. There is little humour in her journey, but those moments are beacon-like and beautiful. The switches between stories – pre-PCT and on-PCT – are smooth and never feel out of place. There is love (even if Cheryl doesn’t notice at first) and hope, but also despair and misery. Often you are as lost as she is, trekking through wilderness, but often you can see the way clearer than she seems to.

Oddly, this book has given me itchy feet again. To re-hike the bits of Hadrian’s Wall I missed, or to disappear to another continent for a while. Because, despite all the pain and fear, there is intense joy on the PCT, and the sense of freedom is not lost. Like W.G. Sebald, Cheryl is a travel writer, but with the respect and alacrity of a novelist. I’m glad I uncovered it.

If you have ever been travelling, ever been lost, or even just gone for a hike in the wrong shoes, you will love this book. It will make you cry from the first page to the last, but it will also make you smile. It is a journey in a book.

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