Friday, 30 November 2012

'A Year in the Wild' by James Hendry

‘A Year in the Wild’ by James Hendry

‘A Year in the Wild,’ is set in Sasekile Private Game Lodge in the South African bushveld, and tells the story of two brothers who have loathed each other since childhood. In a last attempt at reconciliation, the parents of Hugh and Angus McNaughton convince them to work for a year together at a five star lodge and we are treated to the experiences and events that consequently unfold. The rivalry between the brothers makes for a hilarious read, with Hugh as the perfect sibling, and one that troublemaker Angus very easily and quickly drives to the point of frustration.

The novel is written in a conversational tone in the unusual form of email correspondence between Angus, Hugh and their sister Jules. Their frequent emails home include experiences and encounters with guests, wildlife and female staff, sometimes combining all three! When I first began the novel I was apprehensive about the email correspondence form, however my reservations were soon removed as James Hendry has obviously taken great care to create two completely different characters in Angus and Hugh, with different tones, styles and voices. The device works particularly well due to an emphasis on character development a rather than a heavy plot. The conflict and contrasts in the brothers’ relationship is portrayed clearly through this form in their brutally honest emails home. The novel is a light and easy read, written in a relaxed, conversational tone, using simple language which is easy to understand. The introduction to the novel displays a list of South African terms and slang used throughout the emails, yet the emails are well written, with the correct grammar and spellings, which is often overshadowed in similar formats.

The book is saved from being a clichéd farcical tale by several plot turns, humor, and slightly cynical undertones, with a combination of characters ranging from hilariously stereotyped guests to loving family members and camp employees. Yet it’s most promising aspect perhaps is the gradual development of the characters, with their deepest interior emotions emerging towards the end of the novel.  I loved the two brothers from beginning to end, however I developed a much stronger connection with Angus McNaughton, and feel it was indeed his character who advanced the most throughout the novel. He is introduced to the reader with a physical description of height and eye and hair colour, and as we begin to read his emails we delve deeper into his interior characteristics and emotions. Angus starts the novel with a sarcastic and arrogant tone, constantly complaining and trying humiliate his brother; ‘Well I’ve made it through week one. Fifty-one to go. Joy and rapture.’ Yet, as the novel progresses his selfish character is deepened through the character of Anna, a graceful, calm and loving manager at the camp. Through their close friendship and relationship, we see a deeper side to Angus and a change of thought and personality after her tragic death at the camp. He becomes a much softer and more sympathetic character, through both descriptions of his heartbreak in emails from Hugh, and his own contemplative and thought provoking emails home.

With both hilarious and tear jerking moments, the novel paints an easy-to-imagine, highly accurate picture of the goings on behind the scenes of posh game-reserve lodges and their employees, and leaves you to ponder the importance of both family and friends. ‘A year in the Wild,’ is a light and quick read I would thoroughly recommend to all ages. 

Kathryn Morris

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