‘All that glitters is not gold….’
The Hunters is a novel written by Kat Gordon and is inspired by real-life figures and events in Kenya in the 1920s/1930s. Set against the backdrop of the dazzling and passionate lifestyles of a well renowned group of expats, The Hunters is described as a coming-of-age novel, ‘a complex portrayal of first love and family loyalty and a passionate reimagining of the Happy Valley set in all their glory and notoriety.’
The Hunters is published on 31st May 2018 with The Borough Press and I’m delighted to bring you all my review today….
About The Book:
Theo Miller is fourteen years old, bright and ambitious, when he steps off the train into the simmering heat and uproar of 1920s Nairobi. Neither he nor his earnest younger sister Maud, are prepared for the turbulent mix of joy and pain their new life in Kenya will bring.
Their father is Director of Kenyan Railways, a role it is assumed Theo will inherit. But when he meets enchanting American heiress Sylvie de Croÿ and her charismatic, reckless companion, Freddie Hamilton, his aspirations turn in an instant.
Sylvie and Freddie’s charm is magnetic and Theo is welcomed into the heart of their inner circle: rich, glamourous expatriates, infamous for their hedonistic lifestyles. Yet behind their intoxicating allure lies a more powerful cocktail of lust, betrayal, deceit and violence that he realises he cannot avoid. As dark clouds gather over Kenya’s future and his own, he must find a way back to his family – to Maud – before it is too late.
I have always been absolutely fascinated with the 1920s and the lives of The Lost Generation. There is something so enthralling about their stories and the lifestyles they led. In recent years, after reading the incredible Circling The Sun by Paula McLain, my interest spread to Kenya and the lives of The Happy Valley set. These were a group, of mainly British expats, who wined and dined at the now infamous Muthaiga Country Club and lived a hedonistic and scandalous lifestyle. There were some very famous individuals among this group including Denys Finch Hatton (famed lover of the Baroness Karen Blixen), Lord Delamare, Lady Idina Sackville, Josslyn Hay, Alice de Janzé and her husband Frédéric de Janzé.
Kat Gordon takes us back to that era, by changing the names of two of the main characters in her novel and presenting us with an evocative coming-of-age tale. Theo Miller, an impressionable fourteen-year old arrives off the train in Nairobi to the blistering heat of an African climate. Theo’s father is involved with the railway and he arrives with his mother, father and sister Maud to establish a new life for themselves under the glare of the Kenyan sky. Theo has a very strange relationship with his mother, which we see developing as the story continues, but initially he is quite fearful of her. Her temperament is quite erratic and Theo soon looks to escape and looks for comfort and company elsewhere.
Freddie and Sylvie are two expats (Josslyn Hay and Alice de Janzé) living an extraordinary life of debauchery and decadence. Sylvie is married to French man, Nicolas, in a marriage that Sylvie never seems too comfortable with. Sylvie is flighty, there is a constant overhanging sadness about her, a melancholy. She is always looking for someone to love her more, someone to take better care of her. Nicolas tries, but he is clearly not enough. Sylvie develops a relationship with Freddie, one that was considered shameless and wanton in certain circles. Their lack of morals raised quite a few eyebrows in the society of the time.
Theo meets up with Freddie and Sylvie and becomes instantly intoxicated by their very presence. Even though only a teenager, Theo becomes exposed to their lives very early. (I will admit I did find it quite shocking that his parents agreed to him spending so much time in the company of these folk, with a reputation that was so well known, but I was completely willing to accept it and to be swept along with the story). He is witness to the revelry and is seduced into the company they keep. As the years pass, his exposure to and involvement in their world increases and he becomes heavily influenced by their behaviour.
But as the book says..’All that glitters is not gold’ and soon the veneer starts to slip..
The Hunters is more than just a coming-of-age story. Africa goes through so many changes with the introduction of the western lifestyle. The attitude towards the natives, from many expats, was quite demeaning and racist, and this is highlighted throughout Kat Gordon’s writing. Maud, Theo’s sister, becomes embroiled in local politics which does create tension between the two siblings, as Maud is disgusted by the hedonistic and disrespectful lifestyle of many of Theo’s friends. Fascist views are to be heard in the club, creating unrest and an unsettled atmosphere, and friendships are tested.
The Happy Valley Set lived life with a bottle of champagne in one hand and a gin fizz in the other. They had no regard for reality and floated along through life, waking up in different beds and with different partners on any given day of the week. The party could not last and trouble inevitably landed at it’s door.
The Hunters is really a must-read for all with an interest in this intriguing period of our history. The fact that the story is loosely based on true-life figures and events adds to the enchantment of it all. I must mention that the cover of the book is striking with the silhouette of the plains as the backdrop making for a very eye-catching book.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunters, a glamorous, yet dark tale, a coming-of-age story, a loss of innocence. I was transported back to an era of glamour and glitz, against the stunning backdrop of the African landscape. As a result of reading this book, I actually searched NetFlix over the weekend for the famous movie Out Of Africa, with the amazing Meryl Street as Karen Blixen and Robert Redford as Denys Finch Hatton. It was really interesting to watch it again. knowing a little more of it’s history and the characters involved. The Hunters has further reignited my interest in this period and I thank Kat Gordon for that!
Enthralling, exhilarating, shocking, quite delicious ~ I recommend!
Purchase Link ~ The Hunters
Kat Gordon read English at Somerville College, Oxford and worked at Time Out briefly after graduating. She has travelled extensively in East Africa where she also worked as a teacher and an HIV counsellor.
She received a distinction for her MA in creative writing from Royal Holloway and her debut,The Artifical Anatomy of Parks, was published in 2015.
Kat has lived in Budapest and Reykjavik and is currently settled in London with her partner and young son.