Title: The Hunters
Author: Kat Gordon
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Borough Press, out May 31st
Sweeping, evocative and sumptuously told, The Hunters is a dramatic coming-of-age story, a complex portrayal of first love and family loyalty and a passionate reimagining of the Happy Valley set in all their glory and notoriety.
Theo Miller is fourteen years old, bright and ambitious, when he steps off the train into the simmering heat and uproar of 1920s Nairobi. Neither he, nor his earnest younger sister Maud, is prepared for the turbulent mix of joy and pain their new life in Kenya will bring.
Their father is Director of Kenyan Railways, a role it is assumed Theo will inherit. But when he meets enchanting American heiress Sylvie de Croÿ and her charismatic, reckless companion, Freddie Hamilton, his aspirations turn in an instant.
Sylvie and Freddie’s charm is magnetic and Theo is welcomed into the heart of their inner circle: rich, glamourous expatriates, infamous for their hedonistic lifestyles. Yet behind their intoxicating allure lies a more powerful cocktail of lust, betrayal, deceit and violence that he realises he cannot avoid. As dark clouds gather over Kenya’s future and his own, he must find a way back to his family – to Maud – before it is too late.
The Hunters starts out with a short chapter that gives the reader a hint of the events to come. It draws you right into the story and instantly makes you want to know more. We then start to follow Theo, aged fourteen, on his journey to Kenya where he meets people who will shape the rest of his life. I loved the writing in this fantastic novel, it is so incredibly evocative. The prose painted such a strong picture in my head of Africa and the insular society that Theo is introduced to. There is a huge juxtaposition between the world that the western expats have created for themselves in Africa and the lives of the African people. The author conveys the racism and stereotypes that appear to be have been a constant in colonial Kenya so vividly even though it is not something that Theo is too concerned with, at least at first. He is drawn to the seemingly glamorous and hedonistic lifestyle of the Happy Valley set, as they were called. I knew very little about these people before reading this book and it was so fascinating to step into the strange world of wealthy people who only seem to care about enjoying themselves. As I learned through the author’s note at the end of the book, her characters are based on real people. Knowing that Freddie and Sylvie actually existed in some capacity gives the book an even more intense and shocking feel. I actually felt that The Hunters has quite a ‘Great Gatsby’ style to it in the sense that it demonstrates the emptiness going on beneath the surface of people that outsiders like Theo see as idealistic and seductive.
Theo is a really interesting character to follow. He is a mix of teenage insecurity and pride and his relationships are fascinating, in particular his relationship with his mother. She seems to alternate between cruelty and coldness but at times you can see that she, in her own way, does care for him. Theo seems both to want to defy her but also desperate for her affection. His relationship with Maud, his little sister, is another strength of this book. I loved Maud’s character, she seems to be one of the very few people in their world who can see the problems of colonialism. She has such a kind nature and brings out the goodness in Theo too. Their relationship is one of love and innate loyalty and was a joy to read.
The novel focuses on Theo’s teenage years in part one and then later jumps about six years where we find Theo as an adult. I thought this worked beautifully as, although he is much changed as a young man, the reader can still see Theo’s naivety and insecurity hiding beneath his pride and need to be accepted by Freddie and Sylvie. The stirrings of World War Two as the novel moves forward gives the story an underlying tense and sinister feeling. Characters show their true personalities as things begin to change in Kenya and everyone is swept up in politics and danger. The novel really comes in a full circle by the end and I won’t give anything away but the ending floored me completely.
This is a fantastic book and one of my favourite reads of the year so far. The writing pulls you into the story completely and I was so invested in these characters by the end of the book. There are so many intricacies hiding beneath the surface in The Hunters. The reader sees everything through Theo’s eyes and as he becomes disenchanted with his so called friends the reader starts to understand the darkness hiding beneath the charisma and allure of the Happy Valley Set. A phenomenal read.
The Hunters is released on May 31st 2018.
I received an ARC of The Hunters from the publishers. My review is honest and unbiased.