Set in 19th century France, The Hunter and the Wild Girl tells the tale of two outcasts: a feral girl who had escaped captivity and was hiding in the woods, and a reclusive hunter named Peyre whose life changes when he encounters the girl. The book has been lauded as a dark fairy tale, and reviewers have described the author’s writing as difficult to get into, but well worth the effort (National Post and Quill and Quire).
Here’s the thing: I couldn’t get into it at all. This is not to say that the writing or the book is bad. In fact, I gave this book a few more attempts than my usual three strikes rule before giving up, and I think it’s because I recognize a certain beauty in its language. The book design is beautiful as well, with a bit of a crinkly cover design that suggests age and roughness, and deckle edge pages within that connote weight, a story beyond the ordinary. I think that the text has a kind of beauty as well, a rather dense and rich rhythm that invites unpacking. It’s not for me, but I think other readers may appreciate what Holdstock has created.
So, decide for yourselves. Below are two randomly selected passages from the beginning of the book, each featuring one of the main characters. I don’t know if these are a fair representation of the book, but I hope they give you an idea of the language throughout. If you find yourself intrigued and wanting to learn more, then do give this book a chance. Perhaps you are just the kind of reader it needs.
Up on the bluff now, the wind finds her as soon as she stands. She runs with it at her back. By afternoon she is far away, at one with the high garrigue, the rough sanctuary of scrub and rock that is her home. She moves with ease along the ridge where there seems no path. At length, seeing a small bush where yellow leaves have withered, she stops. She finds a sharp stone and with her back always to the wind she begins to worry and chisel at the base of her bush. She pinches humpbacked bugs from the crevices between the rotten roots. They try to squirm away as fast as they are revealed, and just as fast she eats them. Bitter and husky they are and not to her taste and she goes on. Her life is returning to her whole and unforgotten, like waking to a day as ordinary as another. [pp. 10]
Peyre wakes not as the fragile toper of yesterday, nor as the uneasy watcher who rose in the night to padlock his chickens and secure his front door. He is restored. His self as returned. Intact, it can steer his dangerous mind through another day, ride it with the reins taut and its vision blinkered, turning it from the boy who lies always at the edge of sight. He starts on yesterday’s list even as he leaves his bed, his body assuming the dreamlike quality of the sleepwalker while his mind engages fully with its subject — the outstretched wing of an owl, its primaries extended like fingers that would comb the air, its markings as if a painter ran a brush of white in bands across the wing half closed. [pp. 48-49]
Thanks to Goose Lane for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.