Book Review: “Rogue Male” by Geoffrey Household (1939)

[Book #4 of Club Biblio-deca – 2015]

“The Almighty looks after the rogue male.” (114)

Of all the novels I’ve read this year, Rogue Male shined as the most grippingly unique story and now ranks pretty high on my list of favorite novels. Until I picked up the book, I had never before heard of Geoffrey Household, a man who apparently wrote several novels in the same unique style. In fact, just reading this one novel makes me want to write a similar one myself. But that’s a long way off.

The plot of Rogue Male follows a well-known Englishman as he goes hunting for sport, but happens to test a theory of whether or not he could assassinate a leading political figure from the woods behind his mansion (the figure is never named, but is most likely Adolph Hitler). He never gets past placing the man in the sites of his weapon, for he is immediately knocked unconscious by the man’s guards and beaten to a bloody pulp before being tossed off a cliff and left for dead. This story only exists, because the man doesn’t die but instead drags himself away from his captors and spends to the rest of the book running, hiding and simply trying to survive, all the while keeping a journal of his time on the lam.

Through certain parts of the book, the protagonist goes through interesting transitions from civilized man to animalistic beast. I cannot argue against the intended philosophy of a man turned into an animal (his natural, unevolved self or whatever), because Household never makes such a philosophy clear. He might be a crazy animist or evolutionist, but he never states as much. What he does make clear, however, in the very fact that his character writes about these animalistic experiences, is that this guy never loses his sense of humanity. While he does write of being a mammal with natural, subhuman instincts, these facts in no real way stand against the man’s having been created in the image of God.

Household’s writing via his panic-stricken and exhausted character is oftentimes beautiful, as if the man truly were journaling inside his earthen burrow. At times such as those, alone and desperate, his mind experienced sporadic moments of clarity where he dug the depths of the human soul or of the natural world and found rough yet glistening gems. Before sharing a few of these gems, I’ll quote the man’s stated purpose for writing at all: “This confession—shall I call it?—is written to keep myself from brooding, to get 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.” (22)

And now, a few of the gems simply in the order they came…

  • If I had looked forward I should have known despair, but for a hunted, resting mammal it is no more possible to experience despair than hope. (20)
  • The essence of safety is that a hunted man should feel lonely; then his whole being throws out tendrils, as it were, towards the outer world. He becomes swift to imagine, sensitive as an animal to danger. (89)
  • Darkness is safety only on condition that all one’s enemies are human. (103)
  • Living as a beast, I had become as a beast, unable to question emotional stress, unable to distinguish danger in general from a particular source of danger. I could startle a dog fox, move as quietly and sleep as lightly, but the price I paid was to be deprived of ordinary human cunning. (132)
  • I am ruled by my emotions, though I murder them at birth. (149)
  • One does not, I think, kill oneself without a definite desire to do so. It is hardly ever an act to which a man must key himself up; it is a temptation which he must struggle against. (155)
  • The wretched fellow feared death as he would a ghost. I admit that death is a horrid visitor, but surely distinguished? Even a man going to the gallows feels that he should receive the guest with some attempt at dignity. (169)

I highly recommend this book as a diversion from all the other run-of-the-mill adventure fiction out there. I can’t tell you if Rogue Male is considered a classic on anyone else’s list, but I’m definitely putting it on mine.

©2015 E.T.

Current book list for Club Biblio-deca – 2015:
1. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
3. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
4. Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household
Sharpe’s Tiger by Bernard Cornwell
Rat King by James Clavelle
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
War by Sebastian Junger
The Bridge at Toko-Ri by James Michener
The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

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2 Responses to Book Review: “Rogue Male” by Geoffrey Household (1939)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “A Rough Shoot” by Geoffrey Household (1951) | Elliot's Blog

  2. Pingback: Book Review: “Fellow Passenger” by Geoffrey Household (1955) | Elliot's Blog

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