"Holding Fast" by Susan Cole
I always say that people write either for creative expression, to provide information or for purely self-therapy reasons; I believe this book falls very firmly in the latter of those three categories, despite its travel memoir element. It is surprisingly candid on the part of the author, sharing rather more than her family’s travel experiences the emotional ups and downs, the profound love and ultimately loss, not to mention regrets – and I get the distinct impression, without wishing to intrude, that there are a lot of those. I won’t lie, I spent large parts of the book judgmental about some of the decisions John and Susan made, particularly in relation to their daughter’s childhood; but I am also acutely aware that it is not my place to do so, and I haven’t the right. My general conclusion was that, far from being the fun, eye-opening expedition of colourful cultures and experiences, this book presented a tough and gritty life story. Susan holds little back as she literally pours her heart out on the page about their less than perfect early days together; the reasons they fled their life to travel; the unhappiness imposed on their daughter and, finally, the misery of the inevitable loss which is coming. In honesty, it isn’t easy reading, indeed quite hard at times, and the final quarter is so thick with uncomfortable realism that you can chew it; the end, when it finally comes, is a blessed relief – and is say that meaning no disrespect or apathy. On the contrary, we are all human and we all make our choices, which inevitably affect others; I in fact sympathize greatly with Susan, John and Kate to an extent; theirs is arguably a narrative of people who love each other dearly, yet each desire very different things for happiness in life, though they can’t bear to be apart; it would take a heart of stone or a distinct lack of insight not to sympathize with that.
I don’t wish to mislead with gloom, though; the family have some tremendous experiences on their travels, and Susan’s descriptions of the stops they make – Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico – are vivid and wonderful. But these parts are small; perhaps smaller than you might expect. Still, to embellish on them any more would have been, I think, to distract emotionally from – and not to mention risk trivializing – the real objective of the book: Susan’s self-help process. Writing this book was clearly an incredibly personal experience for her, and she has triumphed immensely. I genuinely hope its publication gives her the peace of mind it should. She hasn’t sugar-coated the book with fake glory of trips to exotic locations; her candour is admirable, in terms of the problems they encounter; the doubts they have; the labour this trip takes; and rueful decisions made before, during and after – I’ll be honest, Susan doesn’t present the journey as appealing in any way; she definitely hasn’t sold any envy to me. Additionally to her honesty, her writing is tremendous; she is a very fine, professional author, and I wish her outstanding success with her brilliant heart on sleeve memoir.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: susan-cole travel memoir real-life drama melodrama grief gritty