Random Harvest by James Hilton

I read Lost Horizon a long time ago, and I’ve seen the movies. I enjoyed the book and the movies. Random Harvst by the same author is a different book, but it has the same feel to it. The characters have, and give the reader, that same longing to return to a simpler time and place; it’s a romance in the best sense of the word, just like Lost Horizon.

In fact, either finishing Random Harvest or a hormonal flare or both made me feel incredibly sad and nostalgic tonight. Then, I had a discussion with Eldest Daughter about politics and nuclear weapons and the war in Iraq and American imperialism and the global economy (yeah, all that), and that made me even sadder. So this review may or may not be truly indicative of the quality of the book. When you factor in romanticism and politics and hormones, anything can happen.

Random Harvest is an amnesia story about a man who loses three years of his life when he is wounded during World War I. The man, Charles Ranier, finds himself in Liverpool on a park bench and remembers everything that happened to him before he was wounded but nothing of the past three years, the ending of the war, and his return home. I’m not sure, but I think Hilton was trying to say something about the collective amnesia of the British people on the brink of another war because they had purposely forgotten the lessons of World War I. The book indicates that the pursuit of riches and economic power and the crusading spirit of the socialists are both inadequate substitutes for personal relationships and commitment to or faith in something beyond the here and now. Actually, I’m not sure Mr. Hilton was embedding such a didactic message in his book, but that summation approximates the message I got out of the book.

Mostly, Random Harvest is just a good story. There’s an impossibly romantic surprise ending, and I didn’t catch on to it until the last few pages of the book. So the finale was quite satisfying. And the story itself moved along somewhat slowly, but with enough going on to keep my interest, and just enough philosophical speculation to make me think a bit without straining my brain too much.

And the writing is very British and very 1940’s. Here’s a sample quotation that made me think of blogging:

“Those were the happy days when Smith began to write. As most real writers do, he wrote because he had something to say, not because of any specific ambition to become a writer. He turned out countless articles and sketches that gave him pleasure only because they contained a germ of what was in his mind; but he was never fully satisfied with them himself and consequently was never more than slightly disappointed when editors promptly returned them. He did not grasp that, because he was a person of no importance, nobody wanted to read his opinions at all.”

Smith would have been a perfect blogger.

Random Harvest was a fun, sort of melancholy-producing, book, and if you like amnesia books set in the 1920’s, written in the 1940’s, you should try it out. Other time-bending, amnesia books with a similar feel to them:

A Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan. Semicolon review here.

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey. Not exactly an amnesia story, but it reminds me of Hilton’s style somehow. Semicolon review here.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin. More modern and young adult-ish. Semicolon review here.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson. Also YA and more of a twenty-first century feel. Semicolon review here.

Anne Perry’s William Monk detective series features Mr. Monk as a late nineteenth century private detective suffering from amnesia. His assistant/love interest/foil is a nurse named Hester.

Any more amnesiac selections that you can remember? Mr. Hilton’s birthday was on the 9th of September, by the way. I forgot.

Semicolon’s September: Celebrations, Links and Birthdays

6 thoughts on “Random Harvest by James Hilton

  1. You were brave to talk about all those things with your daughter. My children are convinced I’m growing horns and cloven hooves, I think, simply because I’m excited by a real person running for high office, even though I’ve said I disagree with many of her positions. Children often take their pent-up and politely withheld animosities towards their parents and explode them onto politics, it seems to me. Doesn’t exactly advance pleasant discourse!

  2. The Lost Horizon is not only a classic, but has remained one of my favorite books throughout the years. I agree with Sarah M. The film was lovely. It didn’t diminish or take away from the book.

    It’s nice that you have a good relationship with your daughter, where you can discuss the issues you did.

    Stay well…

  3. Lovely review. I thought this was a wonderful book and it was good to remember it again. I may have to see the movie and read Lost Horizons. Someday.

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