"And if Glass believed in a god, surely it resided in this great western expanse. Not a physical presence, but an idea, something...

Book Review: The Revenant, Michael Punke

  "And if Glass believed in a god, surely it resided in this great western expanse. Not a physical presence, but an idea, something beyond man’s ability to comprehend, something larger."

Hugh Glass is an experienced trapper and survivor who is working for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, when he stumbles across a very angry mummy bear who literally rips him to shreds. Unable to drag him along on their journey when they are sure he is going to die, but unwilling to mercy-kill him or leave him to rot, their leader offers a financial bonus to two men, in exchange for their staying behind with the dying man and burying him when he finally pegs it. However, virtually as soon as they're out of sight, the two men abandon Glass and steal his weapons, assuming he'll be dead by morning and never come back to haunt them.

They are, of course, wrong. Glass recovers, slowly, and drags himself back to Fort Kiowa, and begins a journey of revenge that covers the next 250 pages, or thereabouts.

At least, that's what the subtitle would suggest. It doesn't say it on my copy of the book, but the original subtitle was "A Novel of Revenge". There is a quote on mine: "A superb revenge story," it says. But I'm not convinced.

I mean, yeah, he does spend 300 pages trying to find the men who took his gun and his knives, and that is the whole point, but I didn't feel like I cared if he found them. I thought he was a cool character, but I still didn't find myself invested in his grudge, or even remembering that he had one, for half the book. Beyond the scene in which they leave him there to die - which was well written - I didn't feel like he really needed vengeance or justice; not like I did during some of Stoner's lows, for instance.

Not that I'm slagging off Punke's writing. I wouldn't dare. He's a very important man. He writes very well, and it's really clear that he knows exactly what he's talking about. His passages about survival techniques are proof, if you needed it, that research is key to brilliant writing. It's just that there was something missing for me, some connection I didn't feel.

It may not be his fault, anyway. It turns out - and I only learned this halfway through the book - that Hugh Glass was real, and this novel, though fictional, is based on things that probably happened. So maybe the real story just wasn't entertaining enough to hold my very limited attention. Or maybe I'm in a bad mood or something. I dunno.

Actually, one thing about the writing. There are a few points in the story - really, just a sprinkling of them - at which, in order to emphasise outrage or surprise, The sentences end with exclamation marks! I don't like that at all. In my opinion (and this may change in future with the direction of the wind or the ticking of the clock), exclamation marks are for 'Shouting!' or for SPECIAL OFFERS! and nothing else.

But that's it. Otherwise it was really well written and convincing... if you ignore the fact that it was supposed to be a gripping revenge story, because I don’t think it was that.

Now that I've finished the book, though, I can finally watch the film…


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