Claire Nelson’s memoir is a classic scenario of escaping from a busy life that appears to have lost direction and undertaking a journey of self-discovery in the wilderness, interrupted by a life threatening accident that brings that journey into sharp focus. It is well written and mixes the jeopardy of being stranded in a desert facing a lonely and drawn out death with reflections on the unravelling of an outwardly successful and exciting life. For some reason though I didn’t quite manage to connect to it in the way I had anticipated and I’m not quite sure why.
It is quite an exceptional story after all. Claire spends time house sitting for friends in the Joshua Tree National Park, taking the opportunity to hike in the wild, take a break from the busy London lifestyle of her career in fashion and food writing and connecting with nature. On one of her hikes, she loses her way on the trail to the Lost Palms Oasis and falls 25 feet landing on the rocks with a smashed pelvis. Unable to move and with no signal on her phone to communicate with the outside world she waits, trying to survive as long as possible in the hope that someone will notice she has gone and somehow find her despite being miles from the trail.
The narrative moves between the individual days that Claire remains stranded in the desert and reflections on different parts of her life to now. She explores her anxiety, depression and the loneliness she has always felt despite being surrounded by people in one of the world’s great cities. It is a very personal reflection in the face of a deeply traumatic experience that certainly connects with the reader, to the extent that there is a physical reaction of relief when the rescue finally comes, which makes it all the more surprising that I didn’t really feel connected to the author at the end of the book.
I wonder whether it is simply a case that I didn’t really relate to the life that Claire was seeking to escape or enlightened by the way that she felt changed by her experiences. The overarching takeaway that we should try to live a more connected, deliberate life rather than the busily distracted one that often prevails in our culture that equates being busy with being productive, is certainly a good one but I didn’t necessarily see it being applied in this particular memoir. The fact that I feel bad saying that perhaps shows that I was engaged by the person and the somewhat miraculous story of her escape, but that I didn’t feel I learned much from the falling is maybe a fault with my expectations.