|Goat Mountain by David Vann|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Stark, brutal, but decidedly not for those of a delicate disposition.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: October 2013|
|Publisher: William Heinemann|
|External links: Author's website|
The eleven-year-old boy, his father, grandfather and Tom, a family friend, were on their annual hunting trip to the family's 640-acre ranch in northern California. Strictly the boy wasn't old enough to hunt but family lore said that this time he would be allowed to kill his first buck. On the way to their camp they spotted a poacher and the boy's father set up his rifle and loaded it - hoping that shooting the bolt would tell the poacher that he'd been spotted. The boy - we never know his name - was allowed to look through the rifle site, but he pulled the trigger. Nothing would ever be the same again. For any of them.
The boy knows what he has done but it seems to have little effect on him. There's no sense of horror or regret. He's oblivious to the poacher's death and even to the reactions of his companions, who struggle to cope with what has happened and how they should deal with it. There's never any suggestion that this is just a dreadful accident and they turn against each other and against the boy. It's searingly hot - reflecting the state of mind of the men - and before long the dead man (hung from a hook in the camp) becomes Jesus in their minds. A bug becomes the Holy Ghost and it all goes back to Cain. Killing is within us all, within our DNA, it seems and it became increasingly obvious that only another killing would resolve the situation.
David Vann first came to prominence with Legend of a Suicide and since then has used the events in his own life to create stark and compelling fiction. Looking back, Legend of a Suicide, Caribou Island and Dirt seem almost gentle, tame when compared to Goat Mountain. The writing is even better than before, forcing its way off the page, having as little regard for the reader as the boy did for the poacher. It's brutal, horrific at times and the book is decidedly not for those of a delicate disposition - but then that could probably be said for all of Vann's writing.
There's not a word in the book which doesn't earn its keep. It looks like a slim volume but there's no way that this is a quick and easy read. I found it mentally draining and provocative, difficult to compare to anything I've read since Golding's Lord of the Flies - and that was fifty years ago. I did have a problem with the book though and that is that the story is told retrospectively by the boy and in language which made me wonder quite how the boy could have become the narrator - and I was never quite able to get beyond this.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of the book to the Bookbag.
Legend of a Suicide is still Vann's best book.
You can read more book reviews or buy Goat Mountain by David Vann at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Goat Mountain by David Vann at Amazon.com.
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