4. The Gamekeeper

By Barry Hines

This 1975 novel came to me by snail mail from Olman’s Fifty, who reviewed it so adeptly here. Definitely read his review, which is great reading in and of itself. After I read it I wondered if the novel would impact me in the same way.  We think alike in the places this novel converges.

I don’t think I have read anything quite like this.  It’s simply outstanding. The clarity of Hines’s narrative is rare in 20th century literature, which too often is crammed with proof of its own greatness and cheap twists that negate what comes before as if nothing in life is what it seems.  Well, things are what they seem when a writer with knowledge, craft and confidence puts pen to paper.

As Olman stated, this novel isn’t for everyone.  But I thoroughly enjoyed the intricate details of the daily life and work of this British estate gamekeeper, which are very realistic and refreshingly unromantic.  While it is very good storytelling it is also somewhat of a manual for an aspiring gamekeeper.  On could avoid many expensive, time-wasting errors by reading this little novel.

Of course, as much as our protagonist is a careful steward of the land on which he lives so closely, and a cultivator of the Duke’s pheasant stock, his work is entirely devoted to cultivating the maximum number of birds for the Duke and his friends to kill during their annual one day shoot. The gamekeeper works all year for this singular purpose, brutally destroying many other populations of animals and birds (rabbits, foxes, birds of prey, etc.) in order to protect the birds that the Duke and his buddies will annihilate come Autumn.  It’s all so absurd.

I enjoyed Hines’s ability to realistically narrate the gamekeeper’s life and purpose without any insecurity.