First published in May 1939, Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household is another good read that NYRB publishing has returned to bookshelves. I believe this NYRB edition is 2007. It is a slender novel of merely 208 pages, but it contains a very interesting plotline. It is a very masculine read, whatever that may mean. ‘Masculine’ being the adjective that I think best describes it – so it will fit on that “Man’s Man” bookshelf alongside Hemingway, Bukowski, and Haggard. The plotline is in that group of novels that include assassinations, fugitives, and secret agent novels. So, think along the lines of Joseph Conrad and John Buchan.
In a nice pseudo-noir fashion, the reader never learns details about the characters – details such as names, birthdays, and other specific data. However, instead of the novel simply being a chase novel, Household writes intriguing and often insightful assessments of psychological importance. The main character, a member of the highest-level of British society is an avid sportsman. He is no debutante amateur in hunting; throughout the novel we are given plenty of examples of how well this character understands hunting and its associated skills.
Anyway, the novel is supposedly composed of the character’s writings as events occur – or soon thereafter, as in a journal. The combination of the character being well-educated have possessing a high status in society allows for the journal to be quite a bit more psychological and thoughtful than one would expect from a hunter. Or at least, more than I would expect, which would be merely like a sniper’s log.
One of the key points throughout the novel is that the reader must question much of what the character has written. This is because as the novel (journal) progresses, the character also peels away self-deceptions and discovers more about his own actions and the motives behind them. Therefore, when we first read that the character finds himself with his firearm on the compound of a political figure, maybe the prima facie reasoning needs to be questioned. But who can have time for that – because immediately, the chase is on.
This shooting trip of mine, started, I believe, innocently enough. Like most Englishmen, I am not accustomed to enquire very deeply into motives. I dislike and disbelieve in cold-blooded planning, whether it be suggest of me or of anyone else. I remember asking myself when I packed the telescopic sight what the devil I wanted it for; but I just felt that it might come in handy. – pg. 8
Do you believe this? The reader, throughout, might question the truth-value of those statements. Well, the plot moves onward: the main character is chased by the agents of the dictator – chased through the woodland in which he was found and then further chased throughout his own country. The hunter becomes the hunted.
Of course, the novel touches on all the expected points: the devolution into an ersatz animal-state, loneliness, survival, etc. All of this is done well and I think it is even more interesting coming from the very English point of view of the character.
Motives are, more or less, what this novel is about – under the rather well-constructed surface story of the hows and wheres of the fugitive and his narrow escapes. In fact, it is not until much later in the novel that the character, in his journal writing, tells the reader a sketchy and detail-less moment about a former romance – how does this romance influence the character’s actions? Further, does the character himself even know?
I wanted to give this novel four stars. I found it very interesting and highly entertaining. However, there are several places where “you just gotta be there.” By this I refer to points in which the main character is describing things and its just too difficult to really picture what he is describing. I mean, there is a general image – but the details are too messy or undefined. I feel the author is very clearly describing something he knows well, but even for all of that, its too much for the reader to mentally build a perfect representation of the scene or item. But if the reader is at all hindered in this closely followed hunt, then I must deduct a star. The thrill of the hunt is based on the “being there” and if the reader cannot truly picture every fibre of grass and every scent of mud, then it is not as good as it needs to be.
Finally, Asmodeus. The cat. He is eternal. I love cats. I want to give the main character a gold star for understanding them. And avenging them.