The Hunter by Julia Leigh: a worthwhile read.
Okay wow. I loved this book.
This Australian author plows through the gate like a powerful young mare with her debut novel set in the rugged wilderness of Tasmania.
The premise is mysterious and intriguing right off the bat and centers around a search for the last remaining thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger or Tasi tiger) in existence.
The Tasi Tiger was officially declared extinct in 1986 after fifty years with no confirmed sightings in the wild.
However, in the years since its disappearance, this unusual animal, that was neither cat nor dog but in fact a marsupial—who sported a prehistoric jaw structure and pouch-carried it’s young—has borne legendary status in The Land Down Under.
Countless sightings have been claimed by natives of the small island state located 240 km south of the Australian mainland. Though evidence for the thylacine’s extinction is staggering, the powerful force of imagination and hunger for mystery have resurrected the Tasi Tiger to new life.
The Aussie folklore that undergirds the story of M, our fearless and unnamed hunter who enters and slowly becomes a part of the beautiful landscape of the Tasmanian wilderness, injects an electric current that forces the reader to turn page, after page, after page.
It hits that nerve that we all are prey to, that nerve for mystery that grasps onto your ankle with an unshakable grip.
The fact that no one can say for certain that one—or maybe two—of these beautiful creatures haven’t somehow survived all these years in the deep forest, unseen…is just plain exciting.
Life, as Dr. Ian Malcolm so aptly states in Crichton’s Jurassic Park, will find a way. And we certainly hope that it has!
In The Hunter, M has been hired by a large biotech corporation to find the last living thylacine so they can harvest its DNA for some nefarious purpose, and a race is on to find her before the competition does.
Mild Plot Spoilers for The Hunter by Julia Leigh.
To keep this mission secret, M, masquerades as a zoologist from a university in Sydney studying Tasmanian Devils.
A rural property—chosen for its proximity to the escarpment where M embarks on several multi-day trips to conduct his ‘research’—serves as his basecamp where he returns from the wild to resupply and log his progress in between treks.
The ramshackle house, plunked in the middle of what used to be a working farm but has since fallen into disuse, is occupied by the recently widowed, Lucy, and her two small children.
Initially, M only interacts with the children as Lucy remains unseen, secluded to her bedroom in a prescription pill-induced-coma, a move of self-preservation in which she attempts to sleep off the crippling grief of the death of her husband.
Her ascent to putting M up in her home was a decision made out of necessity, the included stipend paramount to keeping what remains of her world from complete collapse.
The older of the children—whom M pegs at about eleven or twelve—has assumed the role of house-manager during Lucy’s chemical absence. She cooks meals, takes care of her brother, and promises to call in the search party if M misses his return date.
They have taken the liberty of assuming new names while they live in this unique interlude from normal life. The older goes by the handle Sass, and her younger brother hails by Bike. These two might just be the hidden gem of the story.
The characters are real, each one unique and lovable. Their flaws define them and give them a tangible humanity, and yet, in such a short story, they also achieve sensible growth and change.
Leigh’s prose is fantastic. [Spoiler Warning Ended]
It’s concise and crisp, not one unnecessary word left in the final manuscript. This author took to heart the axiom that William Strunk Jr. coined over a century ago; omit needless words.
The choice to write the story in the present tense also adds to the urgency of the narrative. It removes that comfort, that feeling that everything must end up okay in the end, had it been written as if M was telling us a story that has already happened.
As we are experiencing the story in real time with the hunter, we share his emotions in real time. This keeps that current at a steady jolt that—like an electric shock—locks your fingers and thumbs together on each side of the open book.
I love the way Leigh effortlessly moves between scenes.
In as few words as possible she gracefully moves the plot without leaving the reader wondering where he is or how he got there.
With a skilled hand, Leigh chooses the perfect details to describe and the perfect ones to leave out. The author writing this review is certainly taking notes.
Like the thylacine, this book has remained largely unseen. Hidden in libraries and bookstores, a single copy wedged between, and overshadowed by, volumes of Steig Larrson, D.H. Lawrence, and John le Carre.
You will not experience a minute wasted with this little buzzer. It’s a great one to insert into the queue especially after a longer tome, when you’re feeling a little tired out and aren’t quite ready to commit to another thousand-pager.
Thanks for reading. Now go read The Hunter!
The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it!)
“The Hunter By Julia Leigh: A Worthwhile Read” was written by Kyle Helmer.