Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam

The cover of Carrying Albert Home describes it as being the

Somewhat true story of a man, his wife and her alligator

Homer Hickam (senior, as opposed to Homer Hickam junior who is the author of the novel) and his wife Else live in West Virginia in the 1930s.  They have a pet alligator called Albert, who was a wedding present from a former beau of Elsie’s.  One day, Homer issues an ultimatum to Elsie – she has to choose between him and Albert.  Elsie, after some deliberation, choose Homer, but decides that they need to take Albert back to his original home in Florida.  So begins an epic journey across the states.

Ostensibly, Carrying Albert Home is a novel about two people who are returning an alligator to where he originally came from, but this journey is really about them discovering what is important, both to themselves and to each other.

You are on this journey to discover who you really are

Over the course of their journey, they come to understand what love is and what they need from each other.

Throughout, it’s not entirely clear which parts are true.  Speaking to her son some years after the events portrayed in the novel, Elsie comments on the things that she and Albert claimed to have done:

We did them all, even when we didn’t

To be honest, I’m not sure that I want to know which bits were true and which were exaggerated and / or fabricated.  And Elsie and Homer’s journey is so fantastical that I don’t think it matters all that much.  Their encounters with writers Hemingway and Steinbeck, smugglers, protesters and bank robbers is both amusing and crazy, and whilst it’s not all easily believable, I like the idea of this young, handsome couple travelling through America with an alligator in the back seat getting mixed up in increasingly bizarre events as their journey progresses.

Albert and Elsie are wonderful, although they seem to be complete opposites in their approach to things.  Albert comes across as being quite introverted and extremely logical, whereas Elsie is more prone to whimsy.  She acts on impulse, and wants to experience life to its fullest.  At the outset, I felt a great deal of sympathy for Homer – he clearly adores his wife, but she seems to resent him, and seems fixated upon Buddy (who sent her Albert as a wedding gift) from her time spent in Florida before she was married.  They don’t seem to know how to communicate with each other, nor understand how the other truly feels.  This changes as the story and their journey progresses, and you start to understand the perspectives of both Homer and Elsie, and start to comprehend their real feelings for each other, which aren’t clear to themselves until later in the journey.

My favourite character, however, was Albert.  He is just lovely, and I love the personality that he’s been given in the novel.  I seem to be attracted to books that involve an unusual pet – Andrey Kurkov’s Death and the Penguin springs to mind, although it’s a very different sort of novel.  Having been brought up by Elsie since he was a hatchling, Albert is mostly tame, and his rolling onto his back to have his belly scratched and the little sounds he makes when he’s happy noises are adorable.

Carrying Albert Home is wonderfully heart-warming tale about love, discovery and appreciating what you have.  Told in a light, engaging and humorous style, I fell in love with Homer, Elsie and Albert, and I’ll admit that I shed a tear at the end – something that very few books move me to do.  I loved Carrying Albert Home – it’s one of my favourite reads of 2015, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Many thanks to the team at Harper Collins for providing a copy for review.

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