Monday 23 March 2015

Review: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wildpowerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her. [summary from Goodreads]

My rating: 4.5 stars

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

This book was stunning in every sense of the word; from the shocking and painful struggles Cheryl goes through both on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and in her former life to the epic landscapes she crosses on the PCT. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and found that I didn't want it to end.

I picked up this book because I've heard a lot of people talking about the film and I've wanted to watch the film for ages but I always have to read the book first. Even though I hadn't seen the film I've watched the trailer and I've also googled the author, Cheryl Strayed, quite a bit and because of this I found that whilst reading I was picturing both Reese Witherspoon and the real Cheryl Strayed, which was a bit confusing and distracting at times. I suggest that if you haven't seen the film yet, read the book first and don't google the author! The imagery is so rich that the novel works best when your imagination is clear and open.

"Everything but me seemed utterly certain of itself. The sky didn't wonder where it was." - Cheryl Strayed, Wild

The writing and pacing were both excellent, it definitely kept me gripped throughout and the writing flowed seamleslly from Cheryl's PCT experiences to recollections of her former life. I really felt like I endured the journey along with her, the descriptions were so raw and in-depth that I felt her intense pain, her deep, clawing hunger and her unbridled joy. I really liked the blend of the environments and experiences within the book, there was a nice balance between the experience of the PCT itself and Cheryl's experiences both horrifying and joyous.

Wild definitely deals with some tough issues and there were times where I had my hand clasped to my mouth in horror but there were also wonderful moments of clarity, beauty and what Cheryl calls 'trail magic' that saved it from being too dark and difficult to read. Don't be put off by the 'journey of self-discovery' element. I found that it was handled well due to the fact that everything felt so honest and real, it avoided being irritating or pretentious and I enjoyed it much more than others of that trope, for example Eat, Pray, Love.

I've seen some scathing reviews admonishing Cheryl for her questionable decision-making and lack of hiking knowledge but this book was never meant to be a guide to hiking the PCT and if anything it's a 'don't try this at home kids' kind of novel. Yes she made a lot of stupid and potentially life-threatening decisions that had me shaking my fist at her in parts (yes I'm an old lady), but we are humans, we make stupid decisions and do ridiculous things. I enjoyed how open and honest Cheryl was and admired how she acknowledged her stupidity and recklessness at times. 

Wild made me think and smile and cry and feel all the feels and I definitely think I'll be reading this again at some point in my life. Even before I finished, I knew that I wanted to read it again, to pick up small PCT details or thoughtful nuances that I'd missed. It was both base and profound, both primal and rich with eloquence and I'd definitely recommend it.

You can buy Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail here.

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