Hunters in the Snow by Daisy Hildyard

hunters in the snowA strange mix of history and fiction…

😦 😦

The unnamed narrator of this novel has returned to her late grandfather’s farmhouse to sort through his papers before the house is sold. Jimmy, the grandfather, was a historian and as she goes through his final unfinished writings she reminisces about the stories he told her when she was a child. These stories relate to four historical figures – Edward IV, Peter the Great, Olaudah Equiano and General Kitchener. She intermingles these snippets of history with reminiscences about her grandparents.

Sadly I can’t find much positive to say about this book. It reads as if the author has jotted down lots of snippets of history that she has learned over the years and then tried to find some way to link them. The pieces of history are simply retellings, or often slightly reworded quotations, of fragments of the work of real historians and, although they are occasionally mildly interesting, there is no depth to them, nor any particular link between them. Hildyard also quotes copiously from the original chroniclers and, from time to time, from the essays of Virginia Woolf. In fact, I began to wonder what percentage of the book could really be said to be original. In her notes at the end, Hildyard says ‘the reading for this book was done haphazardly and for pleasure over several years’ and that, I’m afraid, is exactly what it reads like – unconnected notes made by a recreational reader.

Daisy Hildyard
Daisy Hildyard

On the whole the writing is technically fine, although the misuse of appendices for appendages when talking about soldiers’ wounds did cause me to giggle. I wouldn’t have been so mean as to mention it, except that Hildyard frequently patronises the reader by explaining the meanings of words or phrases that anyone with a passing interest in history or, indeed, reading would require no help to understand. The sections where she talks about her grandfather read like a rather dull travelogue as they visit real museums and galleries, where she lists and describes the various exhibits. And she frequently throws in irrelevant little factlets as if, because she knows a thing, she’s going to get it in somehow.

“Much of the Society literature boasts about the cattle’s ‘pure white coat’, even though white is a convergence of rays from a whole spectrum of colours, and therefore, in one sense, the most impure.”

The book has no emotional heart to it and no real narrative drive. I suspect the author was trying to make the point that the telling of history is always affected by the filter of the historian but, if that is the book’s purpose, then it’s hardly a new thought nor is the point particularly well made. While it’s well enough written in a technical sense and even moderately interesting in parts, overall I’m afraid I can’t recommend this one.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

27 thoughts on “Hunters in the Snow by Daisy Hildyard

  1. Oh, dear! Patronising the reader and re-told history? *Sigh* And the premise – finding old papers – is such an interesting one. Well, I think I’ll give this one a miss….

  2. Well,that’s several valuable hours of my life you’ve saved me from wasting – sounds like a stinker!

  3. Note to self. Before asking publisher to send a text which in theory looks interesting and which the esteemed FictionFan is reading, check with her good self as to enjoyment of same, before requesting.

    You never know, the publisher might read your review AND the comments here and decline my request. Who knows, pigs might fly, as we don’t always coincide in our reading tastes, and I might enthuse. Or I might spit a lot about the appendices.

    Its rather sad really – I like your POST because your assassinations are always extremely well done, but i feel as if i shouldn’t ‘like’ the fact that there has been bad writing, and effectively the welcome warning to not read this book (except I might have to!) – but i can always follow your other idea, and post no review, just sending a note to the publisher saying ‘too bad, too bad to review!’

    In the spirit of I come to bury Caesar not to praise him, i suppose, but without the irony.

    • On the upside, there were no trumpeting animal sounds coming from the water pump in this one, so not the *worst* book I’ve read this year!

      With my recent track record on picking, I think my ‘currently reading’ widget should be looked on as a possible warning rather than a recommendation…

        • Thanks for the warning. I’m really going to stop requesting anything I wouldn’t be willing to buy for a while, till I get a chance to read some of the good stuff on the pile – I feel as if I’ve been on a never-ending treadmill of translated crime recently, some of it good but a lot of it just OK. Time for some established authors I think!

    • More and more Jilanne I wonder if the editor is a dying breed, as the number of proliferating howlers in books is alarming. Mind you, they do give you dire warnings about typos in ARCs, asking for them not to be taken into account in your reviews – so i sometimes wonder, have the skilled editors all been sacked – and their places taken by skilled reviewers, who pick up the offending and dismembered appendices that the editor of yore would have red penned dismissively before breakfast, and before submitting their invoice for their appendices lassooing skills!

      Hey ho! I fairly recently read a truly DREADFUL book on arc which was complete gobbledygook and would have been red penned by a teacher of primary school children, yet, there it was, happily out there, under the by line of ‘beautifully written’ Yeourchh!

      Sorry I am in jaundiced mood tonight, struggling with software gobbledygook which bit me when i was least expecting to be bit. Bring back carefully sharpened goose quills, inks of surprising and beautiful lustre, and hand crafted vellum. Consign these vile machines to the outer darkness!

      • I ignore most of the problems on galleys unless it makes it totally unreadable – most of the time it doesn’t – for me, anyway. Actually, what annoys me more than typos, etc, on galleys is if the pictures are missing – or for example, on the history I’m reading at the moment, the section on About the Authors is missing, and I really wanted to know more about them to see how much their background might be influencing their POV. I’ve had to track them down on Google/Wiki.

        • I agree FF – and/but/also with poor writing coupled with that unfortunate mystery of how do you respond to the personality of the author, at least an editor (if not a writer) ought to know the difference between an appendix and a leg. Clearly, there is a great need for surgeons to be recruited onto editorial boards, or (blanches slightly here) do you suppose that the medical mishaps one reads about are the result of anatomically ignorant writers doubling as surgeons on the day job.

          Considers visiting tattoo parlour and asking for each external body part to be tattooed with its name, to help anyone needing to perform surgery upon me to know which part is being submitted to the scalpel. Will work out how to get my internal organs marked later.

          • I always assume, perhaps wrongly, that the editing process isn’t complete at the galley stage, and certainly not the formatting. So I never really think it’s fair to judge typos and errors unless I’m reading the finished article, especially since NetGalley and the publishers both emphasise that the copy we’re given isn’t the final version. If errors bothered me so much I’d wait till the book comes out in its final form and buy it. The only reason I mentioned it in this one is because the author chose to patronise the reader by giving definitions of common words and phrases, so it made me giggle that she hadn’t picked up her own error on appendices. But in retrospect it was probably unfair of me to do so, and it certainly wasn’t the thing that mainly put me off this book.

            • No need to justify (I don’t think you were) your dislike of the book – its always a combination, isn’t it, but sometimes it can only be in precise expose of what is wrong, that others can see that its not just a ‘subjective’ response to something. Like that dreadful book whose title now escapes me full of incomprehensibly bad syntax, which the publishers were puffing as ‘beautifully written’ and many reviewers (this was what shocked me) were repeating ‘beautifully written’ when the writing was full of quite basic clunky misuse of words and dreadful sentence construction, as well as utter implausibility. You rather have to quote, to prove that saying something is badly written, is not just ‘I don’t like the writing’ – but showing WHY.

              You are right through, about what is there at galley stage. read something recently with Index, 12 pages, to follow. frustrating as I wanted to search the index to refresh my memory! Can’t have everything i suppose

      • I am in complete agreement! Perhaps part of the tragedy lies in the ever-increasing number of books being published. Also, so many freelance editors I know tell publishers “pick two out of three: fast, good, or cheap.” It appears publishers are opting for fast and cheap, if they’re paying for editing at all.

        • Too many books, just too many books. Time to turn the clock back to lovingly handwritten manuscripts!

          More seriously, I think you are right Jilanne, books, like anything else, are a commodity and I guess the hope is for that big blockbuster which will get optioned, and the carefully crafted writing, and, for all I know the carefully nurturing editor of the past, forming a relationship with their authors may have gone with the wind.

          I know both FF and myself were a little beside ourselves at the lack of publicity that seemed to be happening for Patrick Flanery, whilst some really average (at best) books were being covered with cheap gilding to try and convince the reading public they were in fact, gold.

            • You may jest, but it was to promote Flanery’s Fallen Land that I originally started this blog! I’ve now bored on about it for 6 months – here, on Amazon US and UK, AND on Goodreads, and to the best of my knowledge I’ve only talked one person into buying the thing! I’m not sure I’d make much money as a publicist…

              On one famous occasion, I gave a five-star review to a self-published author, who then quoted the review all over the place. Poor soul dropped 20,000 places in the rankings over the next two weeks. A sad but true story! 😳

            • Oh dear, most unfortunate. This begs the question: how do you make publicity snowball? I’ve never chatted with a publicist about this, but if anyone had the magic key that worked no matter the situation, she/he would be the golden child of publishing.

            • I honestly have no idea. Publishers seem to think amateur reviews matter or they wouldn’t be so willing to give away freebies, and they seem to prefer blogging to Amazon reviews, but I’m not convinced. Maybe the great big blogs with tons of followers are influential, but on the zillions of small blogs like mine very few people ever even see the reviews.

              After the unfortunate affair of the falling sales ranking, my kindly and supportive fellow Amazon reviewers suggested I could make a fortune by threatening authors with 5-star reviews if they didn’t pay ‘protection’ money 🙂

    • That’s becoming a question I ask more and more often. Not to mention proof-reader. But in this case I really couldn’t help asking myself why the publisher thought this was worthy of publication in its current form. There are so many talented people out there who’d give their appendage/appendix for a chance at publication…

      • The author is the publisher’s eccentric and extremely wealthy old aunt who’s going to give all her $$$ to the publisher once she kicks the bucket? The photo is a fake so no one is the wiser. :o)

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