Men who run away from home

Cover: The hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared Keep an eye on your menfolk.

In the space of five months I have read five books on runaway men. It all started with The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and that should have been it.

But books on runaway men just keep on coming:

Like The hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. This Swedish novel plaits together two strands of a centenarian’s escape from his retirement home: his memories of his colourful (and incendiary) past and his current adventures as a one hundred year old escapee. In typically Scandinavian style, some seriously weird events take place, and at one point all that kept me reading was curiosity as to how the author would pull the whole thing together, which he does.

Cover: Instructions for a heatwavwHot on its heels (as it were) is the latest Maggie O’Farrell, Instructions for a heatwave. O’Farrell has quite a following among book club ladies, after her very successful The hand that first held mine. In this novel, the man who runs away is offstage the whole time. It’s really about the effect of his defection on his wife and children.

I’m quite partial to this sort of “figure-ground” writing, it’s like that gestalt picture where you can see both a vase or two profiles, depending on your focus at the time. There is a bit of a mystery in O’Farrell’s book as well, but its strength lies in its superb characterizations. However, let us not get sidetracked here. It is still a book about a man who goes walkabout.

I have only read one novel in my life where a female character just ups and offs. It is Delia in Ladder of years by Anne Tyler. Surely there must be others, or are women just slow off the starters’ block in the runaway game?

10 thoughts on “Men who run away from home

  1. Zee 6 July 2013 / 1:58 pm

    I’m writing a book about a man that runs away – not to the devastation of his family, but in hope of finding magic again. For some reason the male figure seemed to suit the role better; I never considered creating a female lead for this one.

    • robertafsmith 6 July 2013 / 5:56 pm

      Interesting. I suppose most women just can’t easily up and off – even though heaven knows the magic may well be out there somewhere – they are too often tied to big responsibilities.

  2. anonymousse 6 July 2013 / 5:16 pm

    Shirley Valentine?

    • robertafsmith 6 July 2013 / 5:53 pm

      Good one, I can’t remember now, did she plan it or was it a spontaneous runaway like all these men?

  3. Diane 6 July 2013 / 9:59 pm

    The Hours by Michael Cunningham, the woman who ups and leaves her child. Devastating. And one of the few novels that captures what it is like to be home alone all day with a young child and long to check into a hotel and read a novel, undisturbed.

    • robertafsmith 7 July 2013 / 8:39 am

      Excellent, I remember that book now, how could I have forgotten it? Read it when Ingi was little – we were all at that age and could completely empathise!

  4. karenbccl 7 July 2013 / 2:46 pm

    One female character that wasn’t slow off the starters’ block was ‘The Bolter’ mentioned in Nancy Mitford’s :’Love in a Cold Climate’

    • Linda 8 July 2013 / 10:10 pm

      Hi Roberta – there is a book called “the bolter” and is a biography of the “bolter” of the Mitford family. Her greatgrandaughter ? writes it and follows her path to Kenya where she continues with her love affairs and extraordinary life.

  5. Al 8 July 2013 / 5:33 pm

    YA novels seem to be full of women running away from home. Maybe society beats it out of us harder than the men.

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