Way back in March, possibly before I even started book blogging myself I read a fantastic post on Isabel Colegate’s The Shooting Party that made me desperate to read it and convinced me that I should give blogging a go. As is typical of my urgency when it comes to reading books I am dying to devour, nine months later I finally got round to reading it, and it was well worth the wait.
The Shooting Party is set in the Autumn of 1913 and follows the lives of various people involved with, and who just happen to come across, a weekend shoot at a country house. Over the course of the weekend we witness all walks of Edwardian life, from the aristocrats who are partaking in the shooting, and the women who form part of the shooting party, to the rural men involved in ensuring the birds make their way to the guns, to the man eager to spread the message of social change and reform and condemn the acts of those who participate in what he considers a brutal form of murder. We witness the loves, losses and reunions (mainly with a duck) of all involved in the party as they begin to discover something about themselves and those around during the course of the party.
Colegate’s language throughout was simplistic, yet beautifully compelling. I found myself wanting to savour my reading, and instead of rushing through the novel, I kept it for bedtime reading so I could truly become absorbed in the narrative. The characters were endearing, especially Cicely, the granddaughter of Sir Randolph, on the cusp of womanhood and beginning to embrace and contemplate all that life would bring her; does she want to marry an Englishman, or journey to mysterious foreign lands? Is she ready for womanhood, or still slightly naive to the realities of life away from the comfort of the familiar? She also has what I can only say is the best line in the novel: ‘Oh Ellen, do I want to be loved for my hair ornaments?’
Throughout the novel I felt an impending sense of doom, most of it geared towards the missing, tame duck kept as a pet by one of the grandchildren of the landowner, Sir Randolph. However it was never far from my mind that this was a novel set in the Autumn before the outbreak of the First World War, and that soon the characters would become swept up in the most horrific and all consuming event of their lifetime. As Colegate wrote this novel long after the War it is clear to spot many allusions to the devastating future around the corner. They are not glaringly obvious, and do not rub the fact that the reader is aware of the War in one’s face, but are just dropped in as a reminder of what will come.
Saying that it is difficult not to make links between the mindless slaughter of the birds with that of men in the trenches: ‘The sacrifice now was not of men but of birds, handsome creatures, bred up in every luxury a bird could wish for by Glass and his men, fed, protected from predators…only to be cast forth by a whole host of rustic angels, bearing not so much flaming swords as sticks and whistles, forced to take to the air reluctantly…forced up and out to meet a burst of noise and a quick death in that bright air.’ This metaphor makes the novel more poignant, something which is supported by the closing pages which tell us of the fate of our characters; how the shoot made them change their lives and their perceptions and arguably set some of them on to a different course in life, something which was aided by the War.
I highly recommend this novel as for me it was refreshing, simple, yet engaging read that kept me gripped until the finally pages. I love how tension was built up throughout, how I knew something inevitable was about to happen, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what until it was over. And because I adore anything that reminds me of my Masters dissertation I shall end with a quote that resonates even with modern society – But who invents the rules of manly behaviour? Who says it’s the height of heroism to kill? For every hero does there have to be a living sacrifice?