I have no idea what Boom-Boom Geoffrion thought of Random Harvest, but I can say this: none of the reviewers was too impressed. None that I’ve read. One of the nicest things that Charles Poore, writing for The New York Times, could summon up to say was that it was like an artichoke: layered.
James Hilton’s fourth novel was a big deal when it was published in 1941. Jonathan Franzen’s Purity big? That sort of thing, I’m thinking. Six years had passed since the English author had published his previous blockbusting book, Goodbye Mr. Chips, which in turn had followed on the heels of Lost Horizon, the book with which he made his name and gave the world (and the word) Shangri-La.
The new novel told the story of a soldier of the First World War, shell-shocked, with no memory of the rich, high-born man he used to be. Charles Poore warned that he was sticking by his rule of never to give away the ending of a book; what he was willing to say was (i) it wasn’t a plausible plot and (ii) he preferred the parts to the whole. It was, he was willing to declare in his end-of-January column, the most dilemma-strewn, plot-clotted story of the year.
In Toronto, the estimable William Arthur Deacon gave it a look for The Globe and Mail. He felt that Hilton had turned his back on — well, everything of significance, in favour of being a mere purveyor of entertainment. He advised the thoughtful reader to leave it alone. “After the inevitable movie, it will pass, slowly at first and then rapidly, into the void of eternal forgetfulness, because there is really nothing much to it.”
It was a bestseller, on both sides of the Atlantic. Deacon was right and also, wrong. A movie did follow, in 1942, starring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. It made a lot of money, too, while failing to charm the critics.
As for the perpetual void, Boom-Boom Geoffrion obviously braved it long enough to pluck himself the copy with which he’s seen relaxing here. Based on this photo, which dates to the late 1950s, it may have been bedtime fare for two of his young children, too, daughter Linda and elder son Bob. Never mind the critics: the Geoffrions appear to have made it nearly all the way to the end.