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.
Hot 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?