Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Hunting Party - Lucy Foley

After a period of drowning in hefty academic literature, it feels so good to return to fiction, like emerging from underwater gasping for air. I had been on an insane book-buying spree in readiness for this moment of freedom. What better company can one ask for on the flight than Jack Reacher politely beating the crap out of everyone? I devoured Blue Moon for at least 6 hours straight. During my break in India it was Keigo Higashino’s slow-burning The Devotion of Suspect X. And now back here in the melancholic British weather, instead of preparing for my upcoming viva, I played truant and surrendered to Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party.

It’s been a while since I’d read a well-executed whodunit, and The Hunting Party was sumptuous. What better way to spend a stormy Sunday, gale force winds and rain slapping the windowpanes, than to read about a group of friends trapped in a remote holiday resort in the Scottish Highlands?  This intimate reunion of college friends goes horribly wrong when one of them ends up dead.

There are four couples – Miranda and Julien, Emma and Mark, Samira and Giles, Nick and Bo – and the single woman, Katie in the group. Apart from them, there is Heather, the manager of the resort and Doug, the gamekeeper.

The plot itself spans three days, and Foley must achieve the unravelling of the characters in this tight window. She does so by dedicating a chapter for each of the principal characters, all written in first person narrative, except for Doug, where she pulls back to a tight third person narrative. The plot is non-linear and moves back and forth between timelines ensuring that the plot is never stagnant.

The first person narrative builds an intimacy between the reader and the character; for the reader, the story is being narrated real time by the characters—they provide a shard of their perspective and the readers are allowed to see a piece of the puzzle through the lens of this POV. As the plot proceeds, like a detective, the reader must try to put the pieces together, only to come across another bend in the story. We get to know about the events during this New Year reunion through the voices of Heather, Doug, Katie, Miranda, and Emma.

The only drawback of this multiple-voice technique in this novel (at least for me) is that most of the chapters become exposition-heavy with the back stories. Whilst the characters are drawn out very well, I found myself distracted on some of the chapters because of this. I know this is commercial fiction and the focus is undoubtedly on the pace, but my preference leans towards a narration that leaves things unsaid, and allows me, the reader, to sort of fill in the blanks. I found some of the descriptions jarring; especially when a character explains, I faced this and this, so I am like this. I would have loved to figure this out for myself, rather than the character throwing it at my face.

This book would’ve fallen flat if the setting of the place had been weak – here Foley does a fantastic job of transporting the reader to this remote cut-off location – we can feel the unsettling silence, we can feel the biting cold, and we can also see the wild beauty of this resort by a still loch that mirrors the pine covered mountains around it. I think it was the setting that really elevated this book.

The plot has it’s share of red herrings and I’m not sure the reader would be entirely gullible but unlike traditional whodunits, we don’t even get to know who the victim (although you can guess, and then second guess) is till the end. And that’s what keeps the pedal to the metal on this book. I wouldn’t mind watching a Netflix series or even a film based on this book.

I loved the simple yet eye-catching book cover too – I bought it because of the cover, really. If you’ve got a train ride, a flight, a self-quarantine…reach out for this one. I do have some opinions on the characters themselves, but then I don’t want to give away spoilers. Maybe we can discuss over coffee?

© Sumana Khan – 2020

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