This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison (Book Review)
Here you come, Harriet Nathan, tiny face pinched, eyes squinting fiercely…
This newly released paperback from Jonathan Evison, is a warm, intricately constructed story around the life of Harriet Chance, a seventy-eight year old lady widowed when her husband, Bernard, falls into a coma and dies. Before the coma he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and his memory of all his loved ones had already been mostly destroyed.
The novel kicks off at the very beginning of Harriet’s life at zero, but then it soon jumps back and forth between a series of memorable events that make up Harriet’s life, and illuminates to the reader her character and how it has changed over time. Harriet’s biggest event in the present, at seventy-eight, is when she learns that her husband had won an Alaskan cruise for two at a silent auction. His Alzheimer’s had probably meant he had forgotten about his bid, and before he could remember anything about it, he had died. Harriet decides she will take her best friend Mildred on the cruise, but her friend mysteriously declines, leaving her to face the trip alone, or not go at all as it will soon expire. When her daughter Caroline finds out that her mother will be going on the cruise alone, she isn’t very happy, but she agrees to let her mother leave and to not to tell her brother, Skip, through fear he might try and stop her from going at all.
The first night on the cruise, Harriet gets very drunk and makes a fool of herself, but it isn’t long before she unexpectedly get joined by her daughter, Caroline. From this point on we see the complexities of Harriet’s relationship with her daughter play out as they try to enjoy the cruise, and as we delve back and forth between Harriet’s past and present, we see the weight of the past and how it is intrinsically linked to the present, and threatens to change the future too. Harriet also learns about her children’s plans for her own future, and she fears that their intentions might well be financially motivated.
Evison’s prose is brilliant from start to finish, as were his observations about old age and the bitterness that can come with it. This book follows the life of Harriet Chance through the various stages of her life, and it turns out to be a brilliantly read. There was enough variety in each chapter to keep me intrigued, and I think this is largely down to the structure and the gradual build up of facts about Harriet’s life. By the end I really cared for her as a character, and from the start I was happy and excited to be on board with her for the whole trip.
This is my unbiased review of a book that I received for free in a Goodreads giveaway.