Thursday, January 03, 2008

This is England, this is badass

The New York Review of Books Classics imprint is one of the great treasures of the reading world. Whether it be by introducing new authors to the American reading public or by republishing great out of print works, the NYRB line dramatically increased the average quality of available books. As an added bonus, they have consistently engaging artwork, which you can see on the imprint's blog.

One of their newest releases comes from 1939 England. Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male tells the story of a English hunter who decides to see if he can get a very difficult prey in his sights. While traveling in Poland he lays in wait and stalks an un-named "great man," who is clearly Hitler, and is then captured by said great man's secret police.

The story of is of his escape from and pursuit by the secret police. The story of the hunter becoming the hunted is cliche, but it is so well done here. The un-named hunter takes on the characteristics of both a predator and prey at different times in the story and notes the at time superior predator behavior of his pursuers.

What I found most appealing about the narrator is that it is a reasonable portrayal of a highly competent hero. There are many characters in fiction and thrillers in particular who are above average at everything. They can woo anyone they choose, they can use weapons better than trained soldiers, they can fix any mechanism and they can pick the best pairing of wine with squab.

The un-named hunter knows hunting and the outdoors very well and is at his best in that element. Outside of it, he makes mistakes. Household portrays him as wonderfully even-keeled and with a unaffected nonchalance. In the first few pages, we see a perfectly understated description of his wounds from torture and that tone carries throughout the book.

This story proves that it is possible to write engaging thrillers. I wish more of today's writers would read it and take it to heart.


Anonymous said...

LOVE the NYRB--thanks for the reminder to check out their books too.

Tripp said...

You're welcome. I'm sure you have noted their nonfiction offerings. I think this memoir of Jessica Mitford looks quite good.