The Chase by Candida Clark

The world of hunting's secrets and lies, but not its blood and guts
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The Independent Culture

Yet there's more than tradition at stake in Candida Clark's novel. Leo suspects his wife of having an affair with an old friend. The old friend believes his own wife is deceiving him. It's five years to the day that Celia miscarried Leo's son while riding. Now, she has some important news and hopes "the family might again grow strong". But secrets and misunderstandings lurk behind the cashmere sweaters and the gun racks.

In The Chase, characters feel "the gravity of history rushing in". Someone considers the pointlessness of huntsmen who can't hunt. But these people are already anachronisms: in this pocket of privilege, a 36-year-old is regarded as "a boy"; an Old Etonian likens his lover to a well-made boat. What they fear most is change. There's a touch here, too, of Bernard Shaw's Lady Utterword, thinking that "Everyone can see that the people who hunt are the right people and the people who don't are the wrong ones".

Unlike the Domeynes, with their distinguished pedigree, Lance Ash, the backbencher who helped the law through, is a man without history or, indeed, a future. Grammar school-educated, he lives in a suburb of anonymous commuters and has no children. While those gathering for the meet are athletic, handsome even, Ash has a "milky weakening" look.

Leo is jealous of his friend; the friend resents his wife's attention to an ex-cavalry officer. Is the anti-fox hunting legislation just another kind of envy, with civil servants taking a pop at nobs in pink? Yet hunting crosses the class divide. The novel nudges into new territory when Clark introduces the "terrier-men". These lawless Shropshire lads have inherited their livelihood from their fathers and their fathers before them: "If they were not this country, then who was?"

That's the really interesting question. Yet Clark doesn't pursue it, and, as one terrier-man also happens to be a rapist, it creates an unfortunate link between the hunt and a desire to inflict pain. Clark weaves the narrative threads together neatly, but her cool, reflective, occasionally opaque style feels at odds with such an inflammatory subject. The Chase misses the opportunity to tackle hunting's blood and guts.

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