The Hunter and the Wild Girl / Pauline Holdstock
Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane, c2015
This is a beautifully told, fable-like novel of 19th c. France that I came across by chance and really loved. BuriedInPrint reviewed it last fall, and suggested that it really fits into the theme of RIP reading. Although that hadn't first occurred to me, it really does so -- there is a thread that runs through this tale which resonates with the kind of stories told in the dark of night.
The hunter of the title is Peyre Rouff, who, after a terrible hunting accident, lives alone, focusing on his taxidermy skills. He doesn't want to talk to anyone from the village, and they feel much the same.
The wild girl is a feral child who roams the forest but is seen on a foray to steal food from the village. Chased by the townspeople, she leaps off a cliff into a gorge, disappearing into the river far below.
But she emerges on the other side, unknown to all but Peyre, as she finds his stronghold. He tries to tame her, enclose her, thinking he's helping; but the urge to be free wars with the need for human connection. The relationship changes them both, and opens a road forward for Peyre to return to human society after many years of self-imposed isolation.
It's a very quiet, still story. It feels like an old-fashioned and quite French narrative; isolated settlements of people who don't like change or difference, tragedies, families identified by their occupational roles and so forth. But it's also lovely despite the bleakness. The writing is soothingly even whether describing daily mundane activity or great tragedy. There really is a sense of fairy tale wildness in it, with nature imposing its implacable will on human society. And there is also an element of wildness in that very human society; how does an individual find their place in a community that doesn't easily accept anything out of the ordinary?
Holdstock has written a complex and archetypal story that should appeal to many readers, but especially to those who like a twisty, slow-paced, very character oriented story. It rewards close reading, and is perfect for a dark autumnal evening.