Sunday, August 3, 2008

Random Harvest by James Hilton

Per the request of one reader and the interest of another I am going to post a review on one of my favorite books, Random Harvest by James Hilton.

Published in 1941, Random Harvest is the story of Charles Rainier, a wealthy Briton who loses his memory as a result of shellshock during his time in the First World War. While searching for his memory Charles takes on the name, John Smith or "Smithy". As Smithy he meets a beautiful and friendly stage actress who takes him under her wing. They fall in love and get married. And everything seems to be alright, until one day Smithy is hit by a car and knocked unconscious. When he awakens he remembers that he is Charles Rainier, but has no idea where he is, what he was doing, where has been for the last several years, or even that he is married.

In 1942 the book was adapted to film staring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. The movie was very successful. I have seen it and loved it -- in fact that is what led me to read the book. The movie and the film are very similar, but how the story is told and some details do vary.

For example, the film opens with Charles/Smithy at the point where he meets Paula (Helen in the book) and is trying to figure out who he is and it works up to the point where he is Charles Rainier trying to remember where he has been (i.e. his life as Smithy). The book on the other hand opens with Charles, years after he has regained his memory and bounces back and forth between his life as Charles and his life in the past as Smithy.

The book (and the movie) tells a bittersweet story, but it is a story that is captivating and I have good memories from reading it, though it must now have been at least five or ten years since I last picked it up. The copy I read years ago is one I borrowed from a library. It was 327 pages, but later I was able to purchase a copy of my own at some used book store somewhere along the way. It is a first edition, published in 1941 and is a total of 311 pages. I don't remember if it was a quick or slow read, though I seem to think it must have been somewhere in the middle because I enjoyed it so much.

For those interested the 1942 movie is definitely worth watching, though I think you should read the book first. I did check and it is available online at Amazon in paperback (Barnes and Noble doesn't appear to have any copies), but it is rather pricey. You'd be better off checking your library first and if it's not available then buy a used copy through a used bookseller either online or elsewhere.

James Hilton is also the author of several other books including Lost Horizons and the wonderful Goodbye Mr. Chips, which I will have to review another time.


Carrie said...

Very cool! Thanks for the info.

Framed said...

Wonderful review. I read this book last year and had never heard of it before. Absolutely loved it. I really need to watch the movie.