Fiona Edwards has made a comfortable, secure life for herself running a bed-and-breakfast near Dolgellau, a small market town nestled beneath the
peak of Cadair Idris Mountain in Northern Wales. While her husband, David, manages the farm, Fiona spends her days cooking, cleaning, and attending to needs of the various guests.
Born and raised in this Welsh valley, David suffers from shepherd's flu, a disease caused by the pesticides that was once used to kill fleas and ticks on sheep. Grumpy and disconsolate and also sensitive to chemicals around him, David spends most of his days isolated and remote, watching television in the farm's specially converted barn.
For all intents and purposes, Fiona remains alone as she attends to the requirements of her household responsibilities, with the needs of the business making up for the inevitable lack of passion with David.
Meanwhile, Alec Hudson is reeling with grief over the loss of his ex-wife, Gwynne, to breast cancer. A writer and poet, Alec is searching for peace, or at least a form of acceptance of her
death when he flies from his home in Seattle to the United Kingdom, aiming to hitchhike all the way from Heathrow to the top of Cadair Idris, where he will scatter Gwynne's ashes.
After days of walking across England and into Wales, Alec knocks on Fiona's door, hoping at least for a room for the night and perhaps a respite from the cold and weariness. Almost immediately, this lean, fit, finely muscular older man makes Fiona feel at ease, somehow mollifying the barren and desolate emptiness of her heart.
Although Fiona's B&B is booked up, Alec stays the night, pitching his tent in the backyard beneath the apple tree.
He stays on for breakfast, his gentle manner and kindly ways providing a firm comfort for Fiona.
Soon enough, however, the attraction between them grows. Almost like the release of two hopelessly troubled souls, they find a degree of physical and spiritual comfort in each other that they never thought was possible. Always the gentleman, Alec offers to help Fiona run the guesthouse while
helping Owen, the young farmhand, birth and feed the lambs.
While Alec's sadness, which clings to him "like a fragrance," gradually affects Fiona, her volatile passion, "banked like coals in a fire grate overnight, " begins to draw Alec away from the terrible finality of Gwynne's death.
Caught between her passion for Alec and her loyalty to David, Fiona is caught in a moral conundrum. She certainly wants more of Alec, but there's also the problem of David, whose emotional condition is deteriorating, growing unpredictable and more violent as time passes. With the three forces of habit, duty and passion doing battle, Fiona realizes she's trapped and exhausted, the warring sides of habit and duty playing out against her passion for Alec.
When a family emergency brings Meaghan, Fiona's daughter, back from University with Gerald, her weedy, truculent and anti-social boyfriend, in tow, events are set in motion and the delicate family dynamic begins to shift. Caught in a holding pattern, neither belonging nor a stranger, Alec becomes ensnared in the present, jammed between his grief about the past and his anxiety about the future.
In taut, measured prose, author Will North completely immerses the reader in time and place, pounding us with some of the most beautiful images of Northern Wales, especially the funereal gloom of the Cadair Idris Mountain as it hangs over these characters' lives, invisible in its cloak of cloud and intent to breed its own weather.
Written with a gentle and steady hand in a style largely free of ego and flourish, The Long Walk Home is so deeply personal that it is impossible not to get caught up in the action.
Although the novel at times comes across as a bit too precious, particularly in some of the more intimate moments between Alec and Fiona, the narrative never feels cheap or tawdry, or just thrown together.
In the end, The Long Walk Home features some astute observations about the nature of the human condition, where fear of chaos, the collapse of order, and the triumph of confusion and tragedy can sometimes threaten to overtake us. Conversely, this enormously heartrending novel
also tells us much about the unalterable, inexplicable power of love.