I feel very British all of a sudden. I just put down Rogue Male, by Geoffrey Household. Even the author’s name makes me feel as if I am keeping a stiff upper lip for no reason whatsoever. Who knew that this obscure little read is considered to be a classic of modern suspense – the kind of suspense that Hitchcock would have made into a movie with Cary Grant – because only Cary Grant will do. . .
Anyway, this is a strange read. The protagonist is never given a name – in a 1st person narrative, he never feels it incumbent upon himself to grace us with a name. And really, in this work, names are completely irrelevant because they are, for the most part, not one’s real name. This protagonist-who-must-not-be-named will henceforth be referred to as “Our Hero”, although “hero” is quite a strong term here. The only name I can really trust in this whole work is the name of the cat.
There are no heroes in this book, including Our Hero, who sets out to commit a daring act – which could, theoretically result in a big huge international assassination. Although his target is named only as “the great one”, given the time frame and setting of the book, one can only infer that his target is a major figure in European history in about 1940. It is only a daring act, in the beginning. No harm. No foul. Except he is caught, tortured, and manages to make his way, by various and nefarious means, to his homeland, where he is run to ground (literally) by a fellow whose name is completely and totally false.
Rogue Male is a very cerebral experience, written completely from the narrator’s point of view. Almost no dialogue. Just a long series of complex thoughts, plans, and machinations that ultimately lead to a set of circumstances that I could almost believe had happened. It is a strange story. Very strange. How Our Hero suffers as much as he does without complaining, going completely mad, or just giving away his location is beyond me. There is something very noble in suffering for one’s actions or thoughts. Job, I think, got off lightly.
And Our Hero’s motivations – so unclear, even to himself, that the brief flashes of insight are alluring but answer no questions.
This is an action story without overt action. This is a spy story without a spy. The true struggle is in Our Hero’s mind – and it is very much a case of mind over matter at all times.
Hearts: 7/10. I have to read it again. And again. And again. To even understand the beginning, I have much work to do.