11 December 2012

Rogue Male (Geoffrey Household)

At the end of every WORD Classics book club meeting, the esteemed Bookavore asks us: "To whom would you recommend this book?" (Albeit sometimes less grammatically, because for goodness' sake, it's Saturday. Also this time there was beer.) For me, the question's the best way into Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male, which is both a thriller for people who don't read thrillers and a thriller for people who only read thrillers, but are willing to delve into some explorations of social class (because it is, after all, British) along with the chase.

In the opening pages of Rogue Male, the unnamed narrator, a wealthy English sportsman of some note, decides on a hunterly whim to see how close he can get to the Central European stronghold of an up-and-coming dictator (it was written in '39, so yeah, Hitler, but that's really beside the point). He has the man in his sights when he's captured by bodyguards and brutally interrogated; but he manages to escape, and from there the book divides its time between furious flight and the tedium of hiding as, pursued to his home country by the dictator's minions, the narrator goes to ground in a literal burrow in Dorset, his only companion a similarly feral cat he calls Asmodeus.

What I loved about this book is the mix of skills required for the narrator's survival--both the primal knowledge that provides him with food and shelter and the social aptitude he uses on his rare forays from his den. For he belongs to what he calls "Class X," a rank he struggles to define but which is immediately identifiable to any Englishman, who treat him accordingly. Even more so than his limitless wealth (though it certainly helps), it's this vague but unmistakable membership that allows him to navigate through the world of men. Being Class X isn't enough, of course; he needs his Bear Grylls-esque ability to eke existence from his environment, but the latter skill set also isn't sufficient to keep him out of harm's way. Watching these two very different areas of expertise complement and support each other is a joy to read, and makes Rogue Male uniquely pleasurable for the mutually exclusive sets of readers I've mentioned above. Highly recommended!

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