2 March 2010

Julia Leigh, The Hunter, 1999

This debut was a very different animal to her later Disquiet. An unnamed man has been sent by a biotech firm to retrieve the DNA of the last Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial now believed extinct in the twentieth century. This man is only one link in a chain and we don’t see any distance beyond the job he’s doing, so what’s noticeable are the areas that Leigh doesn’t explore such as the purpose to which this DNA might be put, or the immorality of hunting down the last of a species. Instead we get a straight-ahead story of survival as the man lays traps in the forest by day and sleeping rough at night, while also suffering the awkward negotiations of the bereaved family with whom he stays at weekends. Leigh was picked by the Observer as one of the twenty-one writers to watch in the new millennium and this was certainly a confident debut, though not as directly allegorical as I was expecting, or hoping for. However it does resonate with unanswered questions that invite further thought on her technique, ie. of what she chose to leave out and why. This was not an “extremely disturbing” read as one blurb quote puts it – far from it, unless I’m missing something glaringly obvious – but it was at least rather unsettling.  PY


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