It seems likely to me that there are two different sorts of people in this world. Those who would rather read the book and those who prefer to watch the film. Now, I’m not saying one is better than the other but I am a book person through and through – I enjoy films based on books but the only ones I’ve ever seen that were as good for me as the reading experience (so far) are The Martian and Princess Bride. I spend a lot of my time in conversation with various friends repeating the phrase ‘I haven’t seen that’ when the discussion turns to film – I’ve never even seen Citizen Kane… So, it should come as no surprise to me that I had never previously heard of Homer Hickam (played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the film of his first book, October Sky) until he was presented to me in book form.
Carrying Albert Home is a wonderful, warm novel. It is also downright odd but I don’t hold that against it since I positively enjoy the quirkier side of reading. I’ve worked my way through the Hundred Year Old Man, The Museum of Things Left Behind, a novel about a moose by Erland Loe and The Rabbit Back Literature Society and enjoyed them all. Add in Harold Fry (and the wonderful Queenie Hennessy) and I’m thinking of inventing a new genre. I’m going to call it ‘books with charm’. It isn’t just about being quirky or unusual but about stories that leave you smiling, feeling positive about the human race and with a major dose of the warm fuzzies. There’s plot going on, there could even be tragic things happening, but, in the end you are happy. In film terms I’m talking about O Brother, Where Art Thou I reckon.
And the plot here has plenty in common with O Brother since, like the Coen brothers’ film, the setting is 1930s America. Both are concerned with epic journeys, although only one heavily involves an alligator and a rooster, and both offer their heroes a shot at All-American fame and fortune. Carrying Albert Home is, basically, about a trip which Homer Hickam and his wife Elsie undertake to return Albert, the alligator, to his birthplace in Florida. So far, so good. But the story is about far more than that: without being preachy it is also about how Homer and Elsie find each other and create a marriage that lasts them a lifetime. It is full of incident and humour and characters you want to get to know – if they make a film of this a) I hope they get someone like the Coen brothers to make it and b) I’m going to go and see it anyway…