Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Hunger Trace - Edward Hogan - Guest book review

When David Bryant, owner of a Derbyshire wildlife park, dies unexpectedly he leaves his young widow Maggie struggling to keep the business going, whilst also caring for his troubled teenage son of his earlier marriage, Christopher. David’s old friend Louisa is a falconer who also lives on the estate. The Hunger Trace explores the gradually evolving relationships as first a stranger and then torrential rain and floods changes the emotional and physical landscape.

This is a confident and assured novel. The Derbyshire setting is dramatic, the characters are interesting, the plot is intriguing, the outcome uncertain. Does that make it a good read? Well, I’m not sure.

For the first hundred pages I was uncertain where the story was going. Initially Hogan evokes an underlying sexual tension between the women, despite their previous heterosexual histories. But then, a third of the way through the novel, Adam is introduced and it becomes clear that the women’s relationship is emotional rather than physical. Rather than adding interest, the early ambiguity feels misleading.

Both Maggie and Louisa have difficult relationships with Christopher. Some readers have suggested that his eccentricities are unbelievable in a teenager, but anyone who has had experience of dealing with an autism-spectrum adolescent will disagree. Hogan’s observation of detail is sufficiently accurate to make this extremely uncomfortable reading in places.

Adam too has been described as difficult to believe. Why, readers ask, would a young, physically attractive man be drawn to an older woman who can be crabby and hostile? That may be a valid question, but since it’s one that many of us may have asked in ‘real-life’ I don’t see that as a problem in a novel, so long as the attraction is apparent.

Of all the characters, I had most problem with David. His is always a defining presence, either by his impact on major life-decisions or by the legacy of his death, but the ‘idea’ of him was difficult to engage with. Described as self-centred, controlling and a womaniser, yet weak and spineless in a crisis, he is hardly likeable. I found his conversations with Christopher, told in flashback, particularly disturbing given the context of an autistic teenager’s emerging sexual awareness.

Hogan includes a lot of technical references to training and hunting with hawks, and it is one of these that provides the novel’s title. Hunger Traces are the permanent fault lines in the plumage of a falcon due to neglect and undernourishment. The image is a powerful metaphor for the scars left on Maggie, Louisa, Christopher and Adam by previous emotional encounters and failed relationships; perhaps more could have been made of the parallels.

As a study of loneliness and isolation its sometimes melancholic tone may deter some readers, and its plot isn’t as tight or gripping as it could be. However, despite some doubts I would recommend this unconventional novel, which establishes Hogan’s credentials as a serious new talent.

Reviewed by Angi Holden - guest reviewer

Published by Simon and Schuster

Thanks very much to Angi for kindly reading and reviewing this book for The Little Reader Library. Angi is a full-time student, a part-time teacher, a part-time writer, a full-time Mum and an avid reader. 


  1. I thought this was a great book. It's always interesting to read something set on 'home turf' and this is local to me. I didn't think it was Ed Hogan's debut novel though - I thought that was Blackmoor.

    1. Mary - reply from Angi -

      You are quite right. I'm afraid I was mislead by the publisher's blurb, proclaiming Hogan as a 'new talent'. Apologies. I shall be interested to read Blackmoor.

  2. Great review Angi, I think this would be really interesting wee read!


  3. Great review, thanks Angi. A book I'd have to be in the right frame of mind to read.


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and leave a comment. It's great reading your comments and I really appreciate them :)