Saturday, 18 December 2004

David Eddings: High Hunt (1973)

Edition: Ballantyne, 1986
Review number: 1280

David Eddings' first novel is very different from his other output, even from his later thrillers and from The Losers, which was written quite soon afterwards even if not published for almost twenty years. (The vast majority of his writing is in the fantasy genre, of course.) It is an extremely American novel, concerning a deer hunt in the Cascade mountains (later made famous worldwide as the location of Mount St Helens, but still one of the most remote parts of the United States). The narrator is an American soldier returned from the draft; this is during the Vietnam War, but Dan was posted to Germany. He rather reluctantly gets back in touch with his older brother, which leads to Dan accompanying a group of friends on a hunt, one complicated by bad feeling within the group (one man is committing adultery with two of the others' wives). Up in the mountains the tensions only increase, with a major rivalry brewing up over a rare white buck they see, and it starts to look as though deer will not be the only casualties of the hunt.

This covers familiar territory, even for the early seventies, but does it extremely well. The range of characters, for example, is wide and vivid, with both more varied and complex than occur in any other of Eddings' novels - a simplified style has obviously proved popular but I prefer this greater range. Some of the effects of High Hunt are obviously not intended: that the hunt begins on September 11th would be a clever ironic touch heightening the sense of foreboding - if the novel had been written thirty years later.

The obvious, and acknowledged influence on High Hunt is Hemingway. The idea of hunting as a rite of passage, as an activity which sorts the men from the boys, is not something I agree with, so that when this is made the basis for a story it has to be well enough done, as it is here, to provide other attractions to make the tale worth reading. There are other influences, some of which I suspect I do not see since the hunting genre is not one that has made its way across the Atlantic to the extent that the Western, its close relative, has. Rather more oddly, Robert Heinlein is clearly the source of the tone of some parts, particularly the scenes between Dan and his girlfriend. Glory Road is the closest novel to High Hunt in tone, even if it is from a completely different genre. Heinlein and Hemingway live together a little uneasily as influences, but High Hunt works.

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