The book of INTO THE WILD feels exactly like what it is: a magazine article blown up large to fill a book. Perhaps fitting for a story about a wanderer, Krakauer heads off on all kinds of diversions and detours from the main story, some of them are interesting and add to the reader’s understanding, others… It’s never a good sign when I find myself skim reading a chapter because I’m bored, but that happened more than once here. Eventually it would get back to its main narrative and I’d be pulled in again, but in a book about an all consuming quest set amid epic landscapes, there’s quite a bit that’s surprisingly humdrum.
At it’s heart, this is the story of Christopher McCandless: a bright, personable young man from an affluent background, who threw it all in to go on a quasi religious pilgrimage through the wilds of America, before dying of starvation in a remote part of Alaska.
There’s part of me that admires Chris, his embrace of freedom and his determination to do things his way; but there’s also a large part that really irritated me, his spurning of other people’s help, his callousness towards his family. There is self-sufficiency and then there’s selfishness – and he’s frequently the latter.
Add to that the fact he makes more than one idiotic move. He wanted to head into the wilds of America, to lose himself in places which were unmapped. But even in 1991, all of America was mapped, and so to get around this challenge to his ideal, he decided to just not bring a map. As a stupid consequence of which the place he died was remote, but not really remote by Alaska standards. Help wasn’t far away, but he’d arranged it so there was no way he could know that.
Despite the tediousness of occasional chapters, Krakauer relates his tale with compassion and clearly knows the territory and can empathise with his subject’s mindset. It’s a book that asks for understanding for this young man’s way of life, and I think succeeds some way to getting that.
I read this as myself and Mrs Jameson saw the film at Christmas and I was intrigued by it. It’s overlong itself, but did stay wedged in my memory. That despite the fact I came away somewhat irritated by the central character. I think I feel even more annoyed by the protagonist now, but still – despite the flaws – I’m glad I went out of the way to read this. I’m not one of nature’s adventurers myself, I’ll never do the things Chris McCandless did, but it pleases me that there are still people out there who can throw off all of society’s norms and make the world the way they want it.