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Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

Rogue Male (original 1939; edition 1977)

by Geoffrey Household

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589None16,763 (3.97)78
Title:Rogue Male
Authors:Geoffrey Household
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (1977), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:penguin crime isdn, read 2012

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Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household (1939)

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Edition: Folio Society (2013), Hardcover, 172 pages.
Original publication date: 1939

From the FS site: "Rogue Male opens, literally, with a cliffhanger. The narrator has just been thrown off the edge of a precipice and is clinging on by the fingertips. He survives the fall and struggles through a muddy stream before climbing a tree, there to hide from the uniformed figures searching below. It transpires that he has just tried to assassinate the leader of an unnamed country with a hunting rifle. There follows a fast-paced cat-and-mouse chase across Europe as the hero struggles to evade the authorities and carry out his mission – ‘to do justice where no other hand could reach.’"

When we have that first vision of the unnamed narrator, he's been submitted to interrogation under brutal torture (the fingertips in question have had the nails removed) and conveniently left for dead. The novel is in the form of a memoir, which he writes while in hiding to try to make sense of events and also as a way to avoid giving way to insanity. Well he might make that effort too, because his solution to staying away from his pursuers is to literally burrow himself underground somewhere in Dorset, where he spends weeks and months in a hole in the ground not much larger than the size of a coffin; living off tins of food in his own filth and stench and unable to go aboveground or show himself anywhere as a wanted man. The narrative is completely gripping, and though we never find out the identity of the narrator, nor that of the leader he may or may not have had the intention of assassinating, we are privy to his musings as he takes us through the course of events which has led him to his present situation, and his reflections on what his true motivations might have been.

Other than a ripping good yarn, one thing that greatly appealed to me about this short novel was that it allowed me to completely put aside my own sense of morality and prejudices and enter into the mind of a man with almost complete opposite background, world experience and choice pastimes. Here is a very wealthy man from an ancient aristocratic English family, educated in the best 'public' schools and then at an Oxbridge college, whose favourite activity is traveling the world to track and kill 'big game'—incidentally, according to wikipedia, the term 'Big Game' is historically associated with the hunting of Africa's Big Five game; lions, African elephants, Cape Buffaloes, leopards and rhinos—iin other words, animals now on the verge of extinction. I'm sure I don't need to point out that as an animal lover who eats meat most infrequently, I cannot abide the idea of hunting as a leisure activity. But Household's writing grabbed hold of me from the beginning, and I was immediately concerned with this man staying alive and living to tell his tale. And when his true motivations came to the fore, was even be able to sympathize with him. Also didn't hurt that according to some, the leader he had in his sights, finger on the trigger was no other than Hitler, "though the anonymous narrator does not consider himself an assassin but ‘a sportsman who couldn’t resist the temptation to stalk the impossible.’"

Excellent and strongly recommended.

The Folio edition, needless to say, is simply gorgeous. The illustrations throughout always cross over the full spread, sometimes with the text wrapping around the element on the page facing the main picture, a great visual device for a book about a man on the run. ( )
9 vote Smiler69 | Mar 5, 2014 |
This is one of the greatest chase stories that I have ever read. A hunter stumbles on to Hitler's lair in the forest somewhere in Germany. He lines up a shot on Hitler although he has no plans to actually shot him. However, he is discovered before he can get away and then the chase is on across Europe to England. ( )
  lamour | Feb 19, 2014 |
Rogue Male is very strange. Something of a precursor to James Bond or the Bourne Identity and all that, and a solid member of early noir, the story features an unnamed protagonist who decides that hunting lions and other furry critters just isn't exciting any more, and that the next logical big game is a totalitarian dictator. The story details his attempts to off said dictator, and, when the tables are turned, the henchmen of said dictator trying to off him.

I couldn't warm to our rogue male, nor could I really sympathize with his goals. He eventually reveals that his reason for Dictator Hunting is in revenge for the death of his true love, but it takes a really long time--and a long slide from my ability to sympathize--before he admits this. The story is strangely propagandist (it's the late 1930s...guess who the dictator is?), yet (to me at least) completely devoid of introspection. I don't get it, and I just couldn't like The Male. ( )
  page.fault | Sep 21, 2013 |
‘Remains as exciting and probing as ever … the reason lies as much in its incisive psychology and timeless crispness of language as in its sensational plot’
The Times

Rogue Male opens, literally, with a cliffhanger. The narrator has just been thrown off the edge of a precipice and is clinging on by the fingertips. He survives the fall and struggles through a muddy stream before climbing a tree, there to hide from the uniformed figures searching below. It transpires that he has just tried to assassinate the leader of an unnamed country with a hunting rifle. There follows a fast-paced cat-and-mouse chase across Europe as the hero struggles to evade the authorities and carry out his mission – ‘to do justice where no other hand could reach.’

In his introduction, Man Booker Prize-winning author John Banville warns against reading Rogue Male on the train, ‘for you will surely end up missing your stop’. This is a tense thriller with echoes of John Buchan, Eric Ambler and Graham Greene. First published in 1939, the story appears to be a prescient account of an attempt to assassinate Hitler – though the anonymous narrator does not consider himself an assassin but ‘a sportsman who couldn’t resist the temptation to stalk the impossible.’

Born in 1900, Geoffrey Household had a varied career that encompassed working for a Romanian bank, marketing bananas in Spain, and serving with British Intelligence during the Second World War. Rogue Male was his most successful novel, adapted as a film in 1941 by Fritz Lang and more recently for radio and television. To illustrate our edition we have commissioned David Rooney, a leading Irish artist whose portfolio includes the Folio Plutarch’s Lives. Rooney employs a scraperboard technique to create bold monochrome images that perfectly convey the rapid economy of the story. In a nod to the cat-and-mouse theme, the artist has integrated his illustrations with the text, giving the effect of movement across the page. Together with Banville’s introduction, this is a fine new presentation of a gripping story.

‘One of the most vivid lone wolf stories I have read’
Conn Iggulden
  Balnaves | Sep 11, 2013 |
At the start of WWII, an English sportsman crosses over from Poland and gets very close to assassinating an European dictator. Even though at that point the nationality of that dictator is unknown, the following events leave only Germany as a possibility (Russia is to away for the trip home with the ship. Technically speaking he claims that he was just trying to see if he can get close enough, just as a sportsman - but a man with an optical gun pointed to the head of a country will never believed when he says so. And when he is caught, he is tortured and left for dead (in a pretty inventive way) but he beats all odds and survives. And at this point the novel opens. It takes very little time for the secret services in the country to realize what happened and to start the hunt.

But behind the hunt (which is executed very well - both in the enemy territory and in England) there is another story - the story of a shattered love, the story of what the main protagonist was not ready to admit even to himself, the story of what he was doing at that forest with a gun. It's a complex tale - with a thriller at the top, masking the psychological novel under it.

If someone expects high speed chase with cars and trains and whatsnot around Europe, they will remain disappointed. Most of the story is stationary; the only movement is to get everyone in position before the real game begins. And throughout most of the story, there is an easy way out - a way that the unnamed protagonist does not want to take. Because his life is not the most important thing in the world.

The protagonist narrates the story - the book is his diary. That centers the view that we can see and leave a lot of actions unseen until they start influencing the protagonist. And it is the diary's writer choice to remain unnamed - even if his name will probably save him, it is not how that game is played. At the end of the novel is somewhat open-ended - if it was written nowadays, I would expect the second novel within a year. But the story is told, it is just that there is the possibility for something else happening later (and when it was written, it was really open-ended - with the war still going and the dictator still alive).

It is a marvelous little novel - part thriller (imagine a current action movie chase minus the cars), part spy novel (because there is no other explanation for some of the protagonist action), part psychological suspense story that will become so popular in the decades since the writing of the novel. I will definitely check some other books from the Household.

Edition notes: I read this novel in the edition published by Folio Society in 2013. Rooney's choice to illustrate the book in black and white fits the mood of the novel. The page and a half illustrations are showing the vastness of the landscape (each of the full page illustrations have a small part on the facing page, needed to close the picture and provide the detail that make the picture part of the novel. I am not very good with art - but in that book, the art complimented the story without repeating it (while at the same time still showing pictures from the novel itself). ( )
2 vote AnnieMod | May 21, 2013 |
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"The behavior of a rogue may fairly be described as individual, separation from its fellows appearing to increase both in cunning and ferocity. These solitary beasts, exasperated by chronic pain or widowerhood, are occasionally found among all the larger carnivores and graminivores, and are generally males, though, in the case of hippopotami, the wanton viciousness of the cows is not to be disregarded."
To Ben
who knows what it feels like
First words
I cannot blame them.
This confession - shall I call it? - is written to keep myself from brooding, to set down what happened in the order in which it happened. I am not content with myself. With this pencil and exercise-book I hope to find some clarity. I create a second self, a man of the past by whom the man of the present may be measured. Lest what I write should ever, by accident or intention, become public property, I will not mention who I am. My name is widely known. I have been frequently and unavoidably dishonoured by the banners and praises of the penny press.
Their tiresome conception of the State has one comforting effect; it creates so many moral lepers that no one of them, if he has a little patience, can long be lonely.
Though we were both potential murderers, we felt, I suppose, mutual embarrassment. Mutual. I wish to God he had sat opposite me, or shown himself in some way less human than I.
I have noticed that what cats most appreciate in a human being is not the ability to produce food - which they take for granted - but his or her entertainment value.
I tortured myself (for even torture may be a diversion) by thinking of the flask of whiskey in my inner-breast pocket and refusing to allow myself to touch it.
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Rogue Male is one of the classic thrillers of the 20th century. An Englishman plans to assassinate the dictator of a European country. But he is foiled at the last moment and falls into the hands of ruthless and inventive torturers. They devise for him an ingenious and diplomatic death but, for once, they bungle the job and he escapes. But England provides no safety from his pursuers - and the Rogue Male must strip away all the trappings of status and civilization as the hunter becomes a hunted animal.… (more)

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