Stevenson s Kidnapped was the book that started the hunted man genre, and that John Buchan and Graham Greene picked up that baton before passing it to Geoffrey Household, who published this novel in 1939 As I m sure others will have commented, Rogue Male is told from the perspective of a single unnamed narrator, who tries but fails to assassinate Hitler, and is then pursued by Nazi agents though neither Hitler nor the Nazis are specifically identified in the novel I distrust patriotism, the reasonable man can find little in these days that is worth dying for But dying against there s enough iniquity in Europe to carry the most urbane or decadent into battle There s only one other significant character, the narrator s main enemy, who calls himself Major Quive Smith Other characters do appear but only briefly before they fade out of the story.
Much of the book is taken up with descriptions of the author hiding, mostly in enclosed places At one point he stows away on a ship In London there is a chase scene in the Underground, and at one point the narrator hides in one of the tunnels In the best known section of the book, he creates a den by digging out a cave from one side of a disused sunken lane in Dorset, with the lane itself covered by thorn bushes It s in this place that he comes to terms with his own true motives.
I found Rogue Male to be a decent read, well written and cleverly plotted There are some exciting chase scenes but taken as a whole I didn t find it to be edge of the seat stuff However, this novel of a lone man with only his wits to use against a gang of ruthless enemies certainly caught the public imagination The book is apparently acknowledged as the inspiration for the 1980s movie First Blood , showing its continued cultural influence.
This book is considered to be a classic of the thriller genre After finishing it, I can understand why And also why, like most classics, it seriously underwhelmed me.
The novel revolves around the premise of a man, simultaneously on the run from the police and the baddies, fighting it out in rural England Interestingly, it is a war of attrition than one of aggression with the protagonist holed up in a burrow and the antagonist waiting outside There is surprisingly little violence only three scenes, and the torture scene at the beginning described elliptically , and no acts of daredevilry usual in such tales of the recent past This is a very English thriller, if I may term it like that The unnamed protagonist, the Rogue Male of the title, is on the run from the minions of a dictator of a European country in 1939, it is obvious who this is His crime Sport stalking the great man and sighting him through the cross hairs of his rifle, at which time he was caught Our hero says he never intended to shoot, view spoiler which is revealed as a lie later on he was going to do it, unbeknownst even to himself, in retaliation for the murder of his love who was killed by the dictator s police hide spoiler I defy anyone to read this novel at a measured and reflective pace it s one for wolfing I devoured it at speed.
On the surface, this is simply a piece of very successful genre fiction people compare it with John Buchan s The Thirty Nine Steps, and there are certainly similarities of plot hero pursued by enemy agents takes to the hills It s an infinitely better book than Buchan s, though, in my opinion It s extremely well written, for one thing taut, spare, understated, occasionally elliptical And although the unnamed narrator can initially seem a classic, square jawed, teflon thriller hero, he reveals himself across the course of the novel as muchpsychologically complex and vulnerable than he first appears The narrator is also interestingly metaphysically unstable, as Robert Macfarlane points out in his excellent introduction to my edition also available here He spends much of the novel in some kind of netherworld between rational, sentient life and primeval pure existence There s a prolonged, semi conscious moment in the opening pages where it s not at all clear to him where the dividing line falls between him and the surrounding, inanimate world There was a pulped substance all around me, in the midst of which I carried on my absurd consciousness I had supposed that this bog was me it tasted of blood.
This passage is a foretaste of the later, long stretch in the novel that he spends in a hole in the ground, almost literally disintegrating This is the core of the novel, and it s quite compelling Household has a Defoe like ability to draw out the philosophical implications of the survival outside society motif, and he brilliantly exploits the Stevensonian theme of the double in his treatment of his protagonist s relationship with his main persecutor, the fetchingly pseudonymed Major Quive Smith I was interested to see that Household cites Stevenson and Conrad as his literary ancestors I saw no reason to argue with that.
There were a few things I didn t like quite so much The retrospective love interest is pretty perfunctory, and inspires some of the least convincing writing in the novel not too much of it, fortunately One would think that would be quite a serious weakness, since so much is made to hang on the love story, psychologically and in plot terms but, curiously, I didn t feel it detracted from my enjoyment of the work Perhaps that s because it s compensated for by the narrator s muchsatisfying relationships with his alter ego Quive Smith and his trusty familiar Asmodeus Splendid stuff.
Rogue Male is a chase book that gains momentum as it goes along When the clever protagonist being pursued meets his match in an equally clever antagonist giving pursuit , the reader can t help but breeze through pages to see who wins the high stakes chess match Luckily, I stopped reading Victoria Nelson s introduction when I sensed it might give up too much of the plot I went back to it after finishing the book and yes, it did, which makes one wonder why it s not an afterword instead of an introduction It s good It s just in the wrong place So don t read it first if you pick up the nyrb version of this book.
Anyway, set back in time a bit, this novel pits an ever polite Brit against an equally polite German All I can say is, beware of polite people They kill politely Also, it s a tough book for claustrophobes Our hero is ultimately chased into a burrow, an underground lair where he draws comparison to animals holed away from hunters above The description of life in this close space is not for the faint hearted, especially when the climax arrives and the match of wits reaches its height.
At only 180 pp.
, this is a quick read and a well written suspense tale I found the ending particularly clever John Gardner, a man who knew something about writing, called it a classic Who am I to second guess the dead This certainly had me on the edge of the seat, or jumping out of it at several points with the tension.
And I enjoyed Rogue Male s visceral interaction with the Dorset countryside The only downside I felt was that Household had his knickers in a twist over the plot lines For example Major Quive Smith our hero s arch enemy is compelled to ask Why did you miss the trigger squeeze that would have taken out Herr H.
, but still, you managed to dispatch the guy at Aldywch station without a tremor I had the same difficulty, trying to reconcile the two actions from the same man, which I suppose is why the writer gives Rogue the opportunity to explain from his burrow in the ground Then we had a lot of info about The Girl which clues us into our hero s motivation for the assassination attempt An attempt, not a kill which is predetermined, given that the novel thriller was published in 1939 a successful hit would have altered Modern History This failure, however, creates tension the wrong kind with character integrity how could he have missed given that revenge for The Girl view spoiler s execution, presumably by the Nazis S.
S hide spoiler I came to Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household knowing very little about it, other than it is regarding by many as a classic The set up is simple the story told with understated economy and amusing nonchalance and the reader is plunged straight into the action from the very first page.
It s 1938, and our stiff upper lipped English aristocrat narrator has left England with the possible intention of assassinating an unnamed European dictator resembling Hitler He is caught by the dictator s secret service guards and, having been badly tortured, is thrown over a cliff and left for dead His initial challenge is to leave the country despite being barely able to walk, with limited use of his hands, and with only one fully functioning eye The book s lack of names helps to create a simple, taut narrative, as does the very simple plot which is essentially how one man, pushed to the limits of endurance, has to evade resourceful foreign assassins The second half of the story plays out in Dorset, where the protagonist ultimately burrows down into a hidden lane, complete with very evocative descriptions that demonstrate how well Geoffrey Household must have known this area Rogue Male is a classic suspense story and was surely groundbreaking back in 1939 That, unlike most adventure fiction from its era, it is every bit as exciting in 2016 is testimony to Geoffrey Household s storytelling skills aligned to a simple, enduring, tense and gruelling story.
My research suggests that Geoffrey Household s other books did not attain the dizzying heights of Rogue Male, however I am still inclined to readof his work, so compelling was Rogue Male.
I also plan to watch the 1977 film adaptation with Peter O Toole.
As an interesting postscript, Robert Macfarlane wrote a book called Holloway with Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards in which Macfarlane relates a trip he made with the late Roger Deakin to find the Holloway that plays such an important part in Rogue Male Holloway a hollow way, a sunken path A route that centuries of foot fall, hoof hit, wheel roll and rain run have harrowed deep down into bedrock.
In July 2005, Robert Macfarlane and Roger Deakin travelled to explore the holloways of South Dorset s sandstone They found their way into a landscape of shadows, spectres great strangeness Six years later, after Deakin s early death, Macfarlane returned to the holloway with the artist Stanley Donwood and writer Dan Richards The book is about those journeys and that landscapeIt was also where Geoffrey Household s son scattered the author s ashes.
I m a John Buchan fan, and the similarities to his adventure novels were quickly apparent in Rogue Male protagonists who are well educated, even upper class, yet improbably macho They live by their wits in the out of doors, chased by evil conspirators When they kill, it s usually in self defense They can flee through a dense forest without leaving a twig snapped, sleep upright in the crotches of trees, MacGyver an animal carcass into a slingshot, and they always have enough cash on hand in the proper national currency to buy rowboats, sleeping bags, or another man s clothes off his back Or they steal the clothes from the river bank when the man jumps nude into the swimming hole this happened all the time in the olden days.
The introduction mentions that this genre is sometimes called wilderness procedurals, which is clever.
This narrator, though, has internal monologues and opinions which are decidedly unBuchanesque Buchan s protagonists don t engage in a huge amount of self reflection She was a sturdy wench in corduroy shorts no longer than bum bags, and with legs so red that the golden hairs showed as continuous fur Not my taste at all But my taste is far from eugenic.
This review consists of two parts Part I A Study of Ratings musings that may not interest potential readers of this bookPart II In pursuit of the Rogue Male Rating the book reviewPart I A Study of RatingsGoodreads Ratings, such a strange species, aren t they We ve all seen them, we all know them, we ve all had some in our care, but still they retain a certain air of mystery Their purpose categorisation Their paradox their growing population becomes evercomplex and Ratings themselves become difficult to categorise This study is part of an effort toclosely examine these interesting creatures The first distinction to be made is the one between domesticated Ratings and wild Ratings Emphasis in this study will be put on the latter because of the Researcher s preference, but a word should perhaps be written on the domesticated creatures for the sake of completeness A domesticated Rating is very much like livestock bred and taken care of by the Reader The Reader has a field of preconceptions and a constant stream of public opinion feeding into these crops, which in turn are the main form of nourishment of the domesticated Rating They are much less distinct than their wild counterparts, mainly due to inbreeding and an unvaried diet These Ratings serve perfectly well for the Reader who considers them as a means They are used to accompany those books that either don t have any wild Ratings in them or for books which have Ratings living in them that are simply too hard to find for a particular Reader Like putting cows in a forest The Researcher sees merit in these breeding programs, but has observed there isto the wonderful world of Ratings The Researcher considers these magnificent creatures not as a means, but as a treasure to be found Most books don t need mass produced Ratings to accompany them, for they hold the beautiful beasts within themselves These are the wild Ratings, and hunting for them, luring them and catching them is what this Researcher claims the Goodreads grounds are really for So let us consider these wild Ratings for a moment.
First, you have the Ratings that, though wild, are easy to find In some books, wild Ratings will just jump right at you Consider the following examples Some Ratings will come at you through their excellence and their abundance of stars and colours, showing their worth with so much conviction they are inescapable throughout the entire reading of the book You know that what you ve got on your hands is a prize specimen, and the specimen itself is intent on flaunting its qualities every chance it gets These are instances where the Reader doesn t catch the Rating The Rating catches him Other Ratings draw attention to themselves through their extreme inferiority Their stench pervades every word and it doesn t take a reader long to locate them crawling close to earth, to pick them up by the neck and expose them for all to see Horrid creatures who give themselves away like a huge rotten egg in a delicate rose garden It s a one star stinker The Reader catches the smell and it never lets him go.
Other Ratings come at you through their perfectly likable character The Reader extends a hand and the Rating comes to sniff at it, though sometimes with hesitation These Ratings can be a bitelusive, so the moment a Reader tries to hold on to them they might try to slip away Others stay and are perfectly pleased to hang around long enough for the Reader to point out their finer details These creatures don t grip the Reader and neither does the Reader hold on too firmly to them, but nevertheless a clear and definite moment can be shared with these soft natured Ratings But some Ratings are farelusive than those mentioned above There are several tricks these Ratings employ in order not to be found One way for them is to hide away in a huge book, preferably of a technical, experimental nature to make access for the Reader into their habitatdifficult Huge sentences and uncommon words are the trees in which they hide These creatures are mostly left alone Sometimes a domesticated Rating is thrown into their dense Woods, but it never survives for long and is easily shot down by the experienced Readers stalking these lands, who are out to find the real deal Whenever a Reader returns to Goodreads with one of those specimens, he is considered a Hero Banquets and statues will be raised in his honour But some Ratings don t need big books to hide in They don t need to hide themselves, because they are experts in hiding their Rating character The Reader can stumble upon one early on in a book and put it in his bag and carry on, only to find later on, upon checking the bag, the creature has changed its appearance completely What was once a smelly creature of boils and warts suddenly transformed into a delicate creature that is soft to the touch, emitting scents of fresh springs and green fields Still later it changes into a grey stone, inanimate, with no specific traits At that point the Reader can only count himself lucky to have it in the bag already, for in this rocky manifestation they can be particularly hard to find in the wild These are the dangerous Shapeshifting Ratings They should be approached with extreme caution, for Readers have been found losing their senses or even worse, their Reviews, over these sly creatures The Researcher identified three methods to deal with the Shapeshifting Ratings You let them go You decide to leave the book be without a Rating, or to bring in a domesticated one to ease the mind You kill them during a certain phase of their Shapeshifting, freezing them in their tracks and forever solidifying them into the shape they last chose, at the expense of their richness of character but with the award of having caught a clear Rating This requires harsh decision taking on the part of the Reader The dead Rating will in these cases tellabout the Reader rather than the book it lived in You observe the Rating patiently and watch it transform, taking note of each transformation and what caused it This is a very time intensive process and the resulting Review may not be helpful to fellow Readers, nor entertaining.
, since these observations tend to be all over the place The Researcher thinks this the best option, out of love for the creatures, but recognises the practical problems of keeping a live Shapeshifting Rating in the less than flexible confines of the Review Of course, this is all theory The Researcher therefore decided to attach an addendum to this study, in which he tries to describe his hunt for the Rogue Male Rating A case study into the life, and death, of a Shapeshifting Rating that was particularly hard to pin down Part II In pursuit of the Rogue Male RatingThis book is marketed as simply the best escape and pursuit story yet written , and if I hold it against that light, the outlines of a two star Rating become clearly visible I started reading this book with the idea that this would be a quick, exciting read A little snack in between bigger volumes In the end it tookthan a week to finish it What happened The first thing that happened is that this book was published in 1939 That s close to a century ago And sadly not all of its elements are as timeless as you would expect an escape and pursuit story to be I simply could not identify myself with the protagonist, and the settings in which he found himself were not painted vividly for me 1939 is when people knew their everyday stuff it seems A bush was not simply a bush A bush had a name Gorse, sloe and any other name that would make me reach for the dictionary and break immersion, only to find out it s all a bush or a tree or some agricultural tool that really wasn t worth the effort Is the book to be blamed for that, or is it my limited vocabulary Who cares, this is my Rating hunt, blame doesn t come into it In describing the settings and travels the author used many words that were completely foreign to me, all in order to refer to perfectly mundane and every day things, to such an extent that I felt lost In 1939 England, a roof is no longer a roof, but this alien thing consisting of slates, gables and copings The main character is on the run, I get that, but that shouldn t stand in the way of the reader getting him The intense descriptions made me feel like one of his pursuers, confused and at a loss, during most of the beginning of the book When the first person narrator who remains nameless describes his movements in and out of the subway stations, I found it impossible to follow This could lead one to wonder if that effect was intentional, but I decided it wasn t Or that even if it was, it wasn t a nice reading experience.
The main problem I had was exactly this overall reading experience this book doesn t really feel like a story It sof an essay The author sat down and thought through the following hypothesis I am forced to go on the run Questions Where would I run to Where would I stay and hide What would I do Where would I go How would I survive on my own.
The ideas that he comes up with in answering these questions are very ingenious covering tracks, digging holes, making weapons and showing the importance of patience and endurance and getting along with cats, but still the scientific hypothesis always shines through The story, meant for giving this academic approach a bit of flesh, blood and warmth, can t quite cover up a narrative that is rather wooden or metallic at best But in the end, despite the finding of the two star specimen earlier on, I found a three star Rating in my bag It looked nice and friendly, but knowing it to be a Shapeshifter Rating and not wanting to lose my mind, I killed it dead and its three stars are now hanging above this review like a deer s antlers above a fireplace Two stars are for the ingenious solutions Geoffrey Household proposed for those on the run, albeit in a rather dry fashion One extra star is for the insights into what moves people, what motivates them When pursuer confronts the pursued, a conversation takes place that, accompanied with a strong inner monologue, carries important philosophical messages and casts a whole new light on the story A little twist in the narrative that endows a story that was wooden with a pulse A pulse of which I would have hoped it had beenperceptible, but a pulse nonetheless On a re read I wouldn t be surprised to findtraces of this philosophical aspect, on what it means to be alone, on what it means to lose who you love, what it means to have an identity, lose it and find a new one, and other such important questions Just thinking about it makes the Rating shift through its five spectra all over again But right now I can t be bothered with that I m just glad with another Rating in the bag and over the fireplace Three stars and that s it.
The only advice I can give, in summary, is not to approach this as an escape and pursuit story It s not exciting enough to deliver on that, but don t let that lead you to underestimate this book it carries a rich message But like its protagonist, it s a rogue Catching it might prove bothersome.
The first person protagonist of this book is unnamed, but everyone he meets knows who he is He does not have a job, as far as the story is told rather, he is an adventurer and a famous one He is caught trying to assassinate a European tyrant also unnamed but clearly Hitler , tortured, left for dead and then when he is clearly not dead and back in England, bad guys pop up like some child s pounding game At one level the book is about his very specific step by step flight and concealment He lives off the land Of course, the book is also about what kind of man he is He is a swashbuckler, yes but he is also a man of deep reflection.
At one point, our narrator considers, after the facts, that there is a simple logic to the actions he took He did A because of B and because he wanted to avoid C But, he considers, he wasn t thinking that at the time It seemed to me though that his logic and reason were clear then and clear now He realized later only the mistakes he made There is a wonderful dialogue with his attorney, verbal and epistolary I liked this, but it is as thriller as I get There is often an odd sequence to the books we read We don t usually read A because of B and to avoid C Or maybe we do sometimes Before this I read The Island of Second Sight, where a German moves to Mallorca before World War II He sees his homeland with a sharpened focus from his new perch In Rogue Male, our protagonist considers that his time away gave him a better focus of his native land I followed this with The Poet of Tolstoy Park, where the protagonist there, like the Rogue Male here, gave up a former life, both preferring the seclusion of their own souls, the feel of the earth, the redemption in an eccentric task.