Kris Vyas-Myall reviews a comic tale that might not tantalise all taste buds.
Hunters & Collectors • Publisher: Jonathan Cape • RRP: £14.99 • Author: M. Suddain • Published: 2016-07-07
John Tamberlain is The Tomahawk, the universe’s most feared food critic – though he himself prefers the term ‘forensic gastronomer’. He’s on a quest, in search of the much-storied Hotel Grand Skies, a secretive and exclusive haven where the rich and famous retreat to bask in perfect seclusion. A place where the waiters know their fish knife from their butter knife, their carotid from their subclavian artery, and are trained to enforce the house rules with brutal efficiency.
John Tamberlain is The Tomahawk, the universe’s most feared food critic – though he himself prefers the term ‘forensic gastronomer’.
He’s on a quest, in search of the much-storied Hotel Grand Skies, a secretive and exclusive haven where the rich and famous retreat to bask in perfect seclusion. A place where the waiters know their fish knife from their butter knife, their carotid from their subclavian artery, and are trained to enforce the house rules with brutal efficiency.
At one point in this novel it is stated:
“Perfection is easy, to disappoint someone well is a challenge.”
Which I think will reflect the feelings different people will have about Hunters & Collectors. For some it will be a wealth of pleasures they will consume greedily, for me it could have been something I thoroughly enjoyed but kept coming up short. There are many people that will likely find this wonderfully subversive, whether coming from the high literary bent who read Burroughs and Vonnegut or that chuckle over Family Guy and Archer. But humour and style is so subjective, I could see where I was supposed to be enjoying myself but my own experiences came up short.
The biggest problem for me is our lead John Tamberlain. He is one the most thoroughly unlikable protagonists I have encountered in fiction in a long time. Not only is he pretentious and self-aggrandizing, he is just generally a complete jerk. He is the kind of person who would draw a penis on someone when they are asleep (and indeed proceeds to do so at one point). He treats everyone around him with complete contempt and is willing to extol some really disturbing prejudices. Some readers will be great fans of the unlikable narrator but when a character declares that transgender people are dishonest and are men committing an act of female conquest, it simply makes my stomach turn.
As such it therefore becomes hard to care about our Captain Ahab and his obsession. He becomes determined to find a hotel that is meant to be the greatest place to visit but almost impossible to discover. He puts on his blinders to the exclusion of everything else but as I came about caring so little for him this merely added to my annoyance.
The frame is potentially an interesting one, with a range of extracts pulled together to tell this story from various sources. However, if we are to accept it, we have to assume he has a most eccentric editor, completely missing out important events so we only discover them in retrospect but willing to leave in Tamberlain testing his equipment out. It also has a strange series of maps intersecting between the pages but I am yet to ascertain the exact purpose and odd diversions which do little to add to the universe or advance the plot.
The main setting we arrive for the majority of the novel is a really engaging and fascinating one, it pulls off the trick of sitting somewhere between the disturbingly uncanny and the delightfully absurd, rather like Gabriel Chase in Marc Platt’s Ghost Light. This place enlivens the story upon our crossing the threshold and promises to elevate the story onto a fascinating new level. However, it never really materialises. Rather than building up a big mystery, we have little nuggets dropped, only to be explained a dozen pages later. That is not to say there are not unexpected twists that are interesting but they have a feeling of absurdity rather a careful construction.
Whether you will be a person to be dragged along on this strange tale will probably depend on how well you take to Suddain’s style of humour. I have to admit some of it rather tickled me, for example:
“But as I said, I think I actually might have been followed to this hotel. Why do I suspect I was followed? Because one of the notes left at the front desk said:
Jonathan, you’re being followed.
And then below, in pencil, someone had written:
No you aren’t."
But much of it was not quite to my style, relying too much upon the absurd and profanity (if you at all have an aversion to swearing, this will not be a book for you). He appears here to be less Douglas Adams and more Seth McFarlane. This is a fine aspiration to have but 500 pages of this style wears me down when it is likely meant to be the glue holding together the cacophony of the absurd we are presented with.
Hunters & Collectors is a book that is at times fascinating and funny but at others frustrating and unsettling. This may well appeal to fans of more transgressive humour like Vonnegut but unfortunately this is an establishment I don’t intend to frequent again.