General Fiction Hunters in snow omnivore review

Published on August 5th, 2013


Hunters in the Snow by Daisy Hildyard

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Blurb: After his death, a young woman returns to her grandfather’s farm in Yorkshire. At his desk she finds the book he left unfinished when he died. Part story, part scholarship, his eccentric history of England moves from the founding of the printing press into virtual reality, linking four journeys, separated by the centuries, of four great men. The exiled Edward IV lands in England and marches on London for one final attempt to win back the throne; Tsar Peter the Great, implausibly disguised as a carpenter, follows his own retinue around frozen London; the former African slave Olaudah Equiano takes his book-tour down a Welsh coal-mine; and Herbert, Lord Kitchener, mysteriously disappears at sea in 1916. These are the stories she remembers him telling her, and others too – about medieval miracles and EU agricultural subsidies; old people and fallen kings; homemade fireworks and invented dogs; Arctic ice cores, sunk ships, drowning horses, salt, sperm, carbon and miners. The history of great men loses its way in the stories of ordinary great-grandparents, grandparents and parents, including the historian’s own. (Jonathan Cape)

A.N. Wilson, The Spectator

“Comparisons will be made between Hildyard’s work and that of W.G. Sebald. She nods in homage to the great German, partly by the technique of illustrating her text with some smudgy black and white photographs, and partly by weaving her personal journeys around England with meditations upon history. But although there is a debt to Sebald, and an acknowledged debt to the Virginia Woolf of The Death of a Moth, this is a formidably original book. I had no sooner finished it than I started to read it again. It has some of the qualities of Herodotus, being studded with stories, or one of those compendium books, such as Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, in which a whole jumble of assembled information, quotation, story and illusion are interconnected.”

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Kate Saunders, The Times

“It’s a beautiful ragbag of glittering scraps and vivid images — shot birds “came riffling through the air . . . like someone was throwing books out of the sky”. The illustrations include an Asterix cartoon and a diagram of a sperm cell. This is a stunning first novel; Hildyard’s writing is superb”

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Rachel Hore, Independent on Sunday

Despite the apparently random associations of the narrative, it’s all so beautifully controlled. Thus a description of Peter the Great waiting to watch a ship being carried across a Dutch dyke segues naturally into a discussion about Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo, in which a boat is transported through Amazon rainforest, then into a detailed account of the dangerous attempt by the girl and her grandfather one Guy Fawkes’ Night to recreate, from scratch, the sort of fireworks that the Russian Emperor adored.Here is a novel so rich in texture it deserves many rereadings.

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Lucian Robinson, The Observer

“In Sebald’s fiction, personal histories circle like vultures over the inexplicable terror of the Holocaust; the central flaw in Hildyard’s novel is that it lacks any comparable anchor. Nevertheless,Hunters in the Snow is a remarkably intelligent debut and the prose is impressively nimble, such as in this graceful, skimming list of Equiano’s observations: “a watch, a Quaker meeting, a snowfall, an iron muzzle fitted on a housekeeper’s face, a pomegranate, an opera, an eruption of Vesuvius.”"

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David Evans, The Financial Times

“Daisy Hildyard’s fine and wonderfully original debut novel does not read much like a novel at all. The narrator’s account of life on Jimmy’s farm is memoir-like in its observational richness – on a game shoot, she recalls, birds came “riffling through the air … like someone was throwing books out of the sky” – while the historical sections are as informative as any textbook.”

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Peter Carty, The Independent

“Much of this historical subject-matter involves epic journeys and yet, apart from prosaic family vacations, Jimmy himself stayed put in Yorkshire. The narrator emphasises that he lived through his books, but tells of the estrangement between Jimmy and his wife Liv as their remote farm fell into dilapidation. While this aspect of the novel is engaging, inevitably it is overshadowed by the vitality of the historical episodes. At times the rendition of Jimmy’s life resembles extracts from a biography and will perhaps merge fact and fiction too much for some readers.”

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Adam Thorpe, The Guardian

“Hildyard’s treatment illustrates the narrator’s insistence that “all histories are a kind of fruitless pursuit”. Jimmy spends his last years on the computer, and in one sense the very form of Hunters in the Snowreflects not just his own “messy and confused” work, but the infinite digressiveness of the internet, as if the entire novel had been tapped out in the Google search box. Whether it soars to new altitudes or flaps its single wing helplessly very much depends on the individual reader’s patience.”

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Andrew Marszal, The Telegraph

Hunters in the Snow is an ambitious, almost impossibly wide-ranging book. It shares the structure of Jimmy’s unfinished history: each section is loosely based around a different historical character. But it interweaves these passages with childhood memories and the present day, straying nonchalantly from medieval history to a trip to the local tip.Unfortunately, the book’s attempts to thread the historical past with recent childhood memories are at times remarkably clumsy … This is undoubtedly a challenging, idiosyncratic novel. It is just a shame that it so frequently trips over its own convoluted design.

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Kathy Stevenson, The Daily Mail

“Daisy Hildyard’s debut novel makes for interesting reading as she looks at the challenges of studying history through the interpretation of others but, riveting as it is, I found it difficult to find a thread among the many disparate musings. But if you can live without a plot or a denouement, it is a thought-provoking and worthwhile read.”

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Francesca Angelini, The Sunday Times

“Cleverly deploying all the conventions of nonfiction, Hildyard achieves her aim of constantly prompting the reader to remember that this is fiction, not biography — even if the narrative itself remains rather dry and directionless.”

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