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Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

Rogue Male (original 1939; edition 1977)

by Geoffrey Household

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7443312,508 (3.95)147
Title:Rogue Male
Authors:Geoffrey Household
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (1977), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:penguin crime isdn, read 2012, crime

Work details

Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household (1939)

  1. 10
    The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth (ivan.frade)
    ivan.frade: About a man plenty of resources to dodge a powerful organization that tries to track him down.
  2. 00
    Holloway by Robert Macfarlane (schmindie_kid)
    schmindie_kid: Those who enjoy Household's depiction of the Dorset countryside will enjoy this little slice of nature writing, inspired by a search for the holloway in the novel.
  3. 00
    Blind Corner by Dornford Yates (Lirmac)
  4. 00
    The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (chrisharpe, Lirmac)
  5. 00
    Deliverance by James Dickey (BOB81)
  6. 01
    A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler (chrisharpe)
  7. 02
    Rogue Justice by Geoffrey Household (agmlll)
    agmlll: The sequel

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The first chapter begins:-

"I cannot blame them. After all, one doesn't need a telescopic sight to shoot boar and bear; so that when they came on me watching the terrace at a range of five hundred and fifty yards, it was natural that they should jump to conclusions. And they behaved, I think, with discretion."

I had to read on.

This is a tricky book to review without giving anything away. Robert Macfarlane in his introduction to this Orion edition tells any new reader not to read the introduction until they have read the book as there are so many spoilers in his introduction.

The novel takes the form of a first person narrative, written in three instalments, all dealing with the consequences of being caught watching that terrace. The narrator chooses anonymity in his journal in case its contents should ever become public. His name "is widely known", he has "been frequently and unavoidably dishonoured by the banners and praises of the penny press". He concedes that he himself did not really know what he was doing or why when after two weeks' hunting in Poland he crossed the border carrying a telescopic sight for his 'Bond Street rifle'. Moving from place to place he found that with each night's lodging he was getting nearer the House. "I became obsessed with the idea of a sporting stalk. I have asked myself once or twice since why I didn't leave the rifle behind. I think the answer is that it wouldn't have been cricket." Part of the interest of this sporting stalk was "speculation upon methods of guarding a great man, and how they might be circumvented". So far so very John Buchan, but this is a novel of a very different stripe. The narrator lets us know that he has been tortured and subsequently left hanging from the edge of a cliff, it being his captors' intention that he should eventually lose his grip and fall to his death. The condition of his body, when found, would be assumed to be the consequence of the fall, the torn fingernails showing his desperate attempt to cling to the cliff face. By a fluke he lands in a small area of marsh and so survives, but knowing that his body will be missed he is now on the run. He realises that having failed to stage his accidental death his pursuers will now involve the police, and even if he reaches England he will not be safe. No names are given for the country, the people, or the "great man", but as the book was published in 1939 we can be reasonably certain who he talking about. Especially when, later on, the expression 'will to power' is used. As the pursuit nears its end the narrator acknowledges to himself the real motivation for that "sporting stalk" .

Macfarlane says that Household described himself as "a sort of bastard by Stevenson out of Conrad". He also mentions the books which would have influenced Household in the creation of this novel - Stevenson's Kidnapped, Buchan's Thirty Nine Steps, and Greene's A Gun For Sale. From Conrad he would have taken the stripped down style of the narration.

I did have some niggles about the plausibility of some details of the plot. For some reason it kept bothering me that a man on the run, even one provisioning himself from a prestigious store where he well known, would take with him sufficient paper and writing implements to be able to make up this book, but then I suppose there is the remarkable log that Captain Bligh kept which survived his trip in the launch after being thrown off the Bounty. Perhaps there was a time when one just did such things.

I found particularly interesting the narrator's views on society. Born in the west of England in 1900, Household came into the world too late for Victorian or Edwardian ideals. Buchan's upper class heroes suffer from ennui; when young they were abroad in the colonies, serving the imperial dream, then they fought in the first World War. Those experiences have formed them, but the world has changed and their old skills are obsolete. Household's narrator, clearly a wealthy aristocrat, has more reservations about the society in which he finds himself. He maintains that it is the cruelty of the pre-war English public school system "the Spartan training of the English upper class" which has enabled him to withstand torture with a degree of detachment. It is of course the narrator's class which is crucial to the story. Without it not only would he have been unlikely to have undertaken the particular trip which triggers the tale, but there would have been no need for the elaborate staging of an accidental death, nor would he have had the unquestioning protection afforded to him by his few contacts on his return. Early on the narrator muses at some length on the nature of what he calls 'Class X'. He is concerned with the matter as he can disguise himself utterly in a foreign country, in a foreign tongue, but speaking to an Englishman it will be recognised and interfere with his attempts to efface his identity. "I should like some socialist pundit to explain to me why it is that an Englishman can be a member of the proletariat by every definition of the proletariat (that is, by the nature of his employment and poverty) and yet obviously belong to Class X, and why another can be a bulging capitalist or cabinet minister or both and never get nearer to Class X than being directed to the Saloon Bar if he enters the Public." He comments that the British have a profound division of the classes which defies analysis because it is in a continual state of flux. Written in the lead up to the second world war it is not surprising that matters relating to national character are brought in to the tale. While the threat in the story is from Nazis, communism was also in the air, so a degree of defence against both ideologies is built in to the narration.
  Oandthegang | Mar 18, 2017 |
A British adventurer, seemingly on a whim, attempts to assassinate a European dictator while on a hunting trip in that country. He is caught and escapes back to England, where he is further pursued. He is a man of means, intelligence, initiative, and resolve. A suspenseful and intriguing story. ( )
  Hagelstein | Jan 16, 2017 |
Excellent thriller! Reminded me a lot of The 39 Steps. ( )
1 vote MathMaverick | Jan 2, 2017 |
This book is an acknowledged classic by an author I often enjoy, and i have owned it fr years, but i don;t think I have actually read it through. Ias many readers know better than I, it concerns a British gentleman and experienced hunter who decides to shoot a cruel dictator (by implication, Hitler an implication made explicit on the cover of a more recent Penguin edition) who was responsible for the death of the woman the hunter loved.He fails, but ends the book setting off to try again. ( )
  antiquary | Oct 2, 2016 |
Warning: this review contains spoilers.


This ended up being a speedy, page-turning thriller, despite the fact that the book is divided into three longish sections with no chapter breaks in any of the sections. We begin with a man on the run following torture and imprisonment. His crime was to act on a curious impulse and see if he could get close enough to a European dictator to shoot him, just for the hell of it. But for a change in wind, he might have succeeded, and that would have changed the whole story. As it is, he's had his fingers mangled, an eye smashed, and has been dropped off a cliff and left for dead. The rest of the book chronicles his efforts to evade detection by the agents of the dictator's country and to avoid getting any of his friends mixed up in his predicament.

And while he did spend most of his time living off the land, I appreciated his refraining from describing in graphic detail any animals he killed, particularly the adorable rabbits in the countryside where he hid out. I also loved Asmodeus, the cat, and was horrified by what happened to him.

Not sure whether I needed the postscript at the end of the book -- the story on its own is solid and held my interest most keenly. I'd recommend it if you like a good thriller about one man against the elements. ( )
1 vote rabbitprincess | Mar 6, 2016 |
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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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