Hunters in the Dark

Hunters in the Dark

A Novel

Book - 2016
Average Rating:
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In order to escape his boring English life, Robert, a twenty-eight-year-old teacher, re-imagines himself in Cambodia where he befriends an unstable American, falls in love with a wealthy young woman, and is threatened by the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge.
Publisher: New York : Hogarth, [2016]
Edition: First U.S. edition
Copyright Date: ©2015
ISBN: 9780553447347
0553447343
9780553447354
Characteristics: 311 pages ; 22 cm

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jkknudson
Aug 07, 2017

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gendeg
Feb 17, 2017

Hunters in the Dark is my first Lawrence Osborne novel, though I’d often heard him compared to Graham Greene and Paul Bowles. Reading a little into Osborne’s background, I was struck by how rare it is to see a writer like him these days, one who lives as nomad moving from one locale to another, for whom traveling and writing are synonymous. Hunters in the Dark is a template of this. In the novel, the main character, twenty-something-year-old Robert Grieve, finds himself in Cambodia, running afoul and adrift in world that is both alluring and alien to him. This alone might be enough to turn off a lot of readers, myself included, but Osborne deftly avoids falling into the common pitfall of white-man-in-awe-of-exotic-East. There is a hint of that wide-eyed awe only because our main character is such a fish out of water, but Osborne quickly turns that tired trope on its head in startling new ways.

Hunters in the Dark evokes the kind of tension and contrasts we see in Henry James’s Daisy Miller: the old world butting heads with globalization and modernity; how innocence and wonder is strafed by cynicism and nihilism. Here, it is the Western world that is in decline.

Disillusioned with his life as a teacher back in England, Robert takes off to Southeast Asia, first spending time in Thailand, then crossing the border into Cambodia. He becomes swept up in the notion of starting a new life, of shedding his life of predetermined days, a ‘life measured out in coffee spoons’ so to speak. Robert is our naive, ingenuous Daisy Miller, who loses himself in a country of deep ancient history, but also a country that is just coming to terms with the trauma of the Pol Pot regime.

It is a visit to a casino where he spends the last of his savings and wins the princely sum of $2000 that changes everything. The money sets into motion a complex series of events, not unlike the beating wings of a butterfly setting off a hurricane.

Robert hires Ouksa, a Cambodian driver, who takes him around to various sights. He plays tourist long enough to meet Simon Beaucamp, a charismatic, smooth-talking American who takes Robert to visit his luxurious house overlooking the river, despite the protestations from Ouksa who senses something awry about Simon. Robert later makes it to Phnom Penh. This time without any of his belongings. Without his passport and no money, he wonders around in a stupor until he finds luck again when he is hired as an English tutor to the daughter of a wealthy Khmer family. In this role, he decides fate has given him an opportunity to reinvent himself. He takes the name of his American acquaintance, Simon.

What is remarkable about Hunters is how subtle the menace is throughout and how it colors and infuses the smallest gestures and actions. Osborne’s writing is precise, the details sharp and specific. When he describes something, you experience it exactly; the scene appears in your mind in sharp relief. And yet his writing also casts shadows, and double-edged meanings and symbols abound.

Hunters feels like an old school psychological thriller that would have felt right at home in the hands of Alfred Hitchcock. But it’s a thriller that pushes the boundaries of the genre with its obsession with the ideas of fate and chance. Fate and chance here are not just abstract themes but the very fulcrums that turn the plot.

p
patch666
Jan 14, 2017

hes a great writer ~

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