Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Books in between Mr B’s Reading Year: Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household (1939)

I first read this book aged 11 or 12, when it left me with an odd fascination for hollow ways and green lanes in the English landscape – picked up by others, including Hugh Thompson Green Road into the Trees, but more particularly Robert Macfarlane and his wonderful The Old Ways.  However, my schoolboy memory was also for a great adventure.  When this special reprinting in hardback by Mr B’s appeared (http://www.mrbsemporium.com/), how could we not get it?!  We are now the proud possessors of copy number 41 of a limited edition of 500. The Introduction is by Robert Macfarlane himself and describes a trip with Roger Deakin (Wildwood) to Dorset looking for the possible site in Rogue Male {just found Holloway (2013) describing that trip and more is out}! 

On a second reading, Rogue Male turned out to be a wonderful chameleon of a book.  OK it is a man’s book, but it has achieved something that is only rarely done – it is a boy’s adventure, an adult thriller, a spy story published on the eve of the Second World War in 1939, a nature study with insight into animal and human behaviour - all at the same time and in a relatively short book.  Cleverly, the writing uses described memory flashback, so that as the book proceeds, we learn more and more of the subject.  Written in the first person, the man who first lines up a foreign leader (clearly Hitler) in the crosshairs of his telescopic sight is an enigma.  We learn of his capture, suffering, escape to England, only to find his pursuers are close behind, notably the nasty but clever Quive-Smith. So to Dorset and old stamping grounds for me, as we head for a hidden holloway and an excavation to hide in, where Asmodeus the cat follows proceedings.  Ultimately, there is escape after an unwelcome end to the cat and fittingly Quive-Smith, with honour maintained in extremis, sadness for a lost love, before setting off for a final task.  A rare book indeed.

Dorset (2002)

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