Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

Cold Mountain has been praised for its historic detail, its rich characterizations, and its compelling themes. In a review for Salon, Laura Miller notes that Cold Mountain “has been greeted with some of the most impressive accolades we’ve ever seen for a first novel.” David A. Beronä, in his review for Library Journal, highly recommends this “monumental novel,” considering it to be “a remarkable effort that opens up a historical past that will enrich readers not only with its story but with its strong characters.” In his essay on the novel for Southern Review, David Heddendorf praises the way Frazier “lovingly describes” and “painstakingly depicts . . . nineteenth-century rural life.” Heddendorf also points out the novel’s “fully imagined characters,” who “can make compelling claims on us, for in their strangeness they grip our attention as our own problems do.”

Offering one of the few notes of criticism, James Gardner, in his piece on the novel in the National Review, complains that at times, Frazier expresses a “desire to sound novelistic” in the development of his characters. Gardner insists that “one feels, his characters are infused with a faux complexity, a host of ‘issues’ to make them seem heavier than they otherwise would,” and he finds some of the details implausible. Yet, he concludes, “such missteps are surely not fatal to the success of Cold Mountain,” finding that overall, it can be judged as “an ambitious example of the historical novel . . . and very much to its credit—the book treats the past as if it were, in a way, present.”

Gardner explains that “though Frazier has acquired a scholar’s feel for the period’s idioms, costumes, and mores, these become for him merely the conduits through which passes the fluent essence of life lived now.” He also finds “in certain details . . . a genuine novelistic talent and tact which simply cannot be faked.” Gardner adds that “Frazier clearly takes pleasure in the English language,” revealing himself to be “self-consciously literate without being opaque.”

A review in Publishers Weekly claims the novel to be “rich in evocative physical detail and timeless human insight” in its consideration of “themes both grand (humanity’s place in nature) and intimate (a love affair transformed by the war).” The reviewer finds: “The sweeping cycle of Inman’s homeward journey is deftly balanced by Ada’s growing sense of herself and her connection to the natural world around the farm.” Frazier has constructed “a leisurely, literate narrative” that becomes a “quiet drama in the tensions that unfold as Inman and Ada come ever closer to reunion, yet farther from their former selves.” The review concludes with praise for the deft intertwining of character and theme, insisting that “Frazier shows how lives of soldiers and of civilians alike deepen and are transformed as a direct consequence of the war’s tragedy.”

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