It is now 75 years since Geoffrey Household published his exemplary tale of pursuit, Rogue Male. It is the story of the failed assassination attempt of a European dictator by an English gentleman, and the consequent efforts of the unnamed narrator to evade the despot’s agents. Described by the author as “the bastard offspring of Stevenson and Conrad”, the book was initially serialised across the summer of 1939 before being distributed to British troops in the early months of the Second World War.
Suspenseful and event-driven, it has the form and subject matter of a thriller, but to label it as such obscures the quality of the writing and the extensive and inventive portrayals of the natural world, in particular the Holloways of Dorset. This aspect is recognised in Robert Macfarlane’s introduction to the new Orion edition, published last month, in which he describes the trip he took with Roger Deakin in an effort to find the ‘deep sandstone cutting’ in which Household’s hero held out.
Delivered in three parts, and totalling at fewer than two hundred pages, the writing is sharp and economic, reflecting the clipped acerbic style of the pre-war Englishman of ‘Class X’ whose adventures we follow. Accounts of ferocious torture are supplied with understatement and considerable dark humour, “I had parted, obviously and irrevocably, with a lot of my living matter.”
However the survival of the novel and its recognition as a classic does not rest entirely on its stylistic merits. The tight plotting, pace, and action make reading it a one or two sitting affair. As we open our new Hatchards bookshop in St. Pancras station it strikes me that this is precisely the sort of book with which we can identify; a classic, but a classic that today stands on its substantial virtues, proud of its heritage but not constrained by it. I would highly recommend Rogue Male to anyone who has not yet read it.
Jack Rogers – St. Pancras bookseller
£8.99 and in stock
To reserve a copy, get in touch via the usual methods or click here.