Friday, 19 July 2013

Review: 'Goat Mountain' by David Vann

I requested this novel on Netgalley, not quite sure whether it was the right kind of novel for me. Sometimes a premise just draws you in and you wonder where the author will take the story. And this book had a hell of a surprise for me.
Three generations of one family – a grandfather, father and son – and a family friend set off on an annual trip to their hunting grounds: 640 remote acres along one side of a mountain. A wild and idyllic spot, miles from anywhere. But all is not as it should be. Upon arrival, they spot an intruder, a poacher, lurking by their cabin. ‘Come and take a look’ the father says. His son peers through the rifle scope till he spots the man, steadies his breath, lines up the crosshairs... Set over the course of one hot and claustrophobic weekend, Goat Mountain is the story of a family struggling to contend with a terrible crime, its repercussions and the slow descent into hell. 

From the first page on I knew this novel would be drastically different from any I have read recently. Vann's writing style immediately transports you into the immediate action of the novel, despite the fact that it is a flashback for the protagonist. Every action, every sound and smell is right there, happening in front of you. Sometimes it is so present that there almost seems to be too much happening, which creates the amazingly claustrophobic feeling some novels manage to produce in their readers. The sense that you cannot escape the novel, that it will not let you go. Even if you put it down, you will think about it until you pick it up and finish it. As a result, I read 'Goat Mountain' within half a day. As the family's trip escalates, the tension grows and it is palpable in the way Vann writes. I have never hunted, never gutted a buck, but now I feel like I have witnessed it, seen it with my own eyes. There is something so real about the way Vann writes that the experiences these three generations go through seem realer than what is happening around you while you read.

As can be seen from the cover and partially from the premise, Vann takes on the massive literary trope that is the devil, hell and religion in general. There is one "moment" in the novel in which Vann chronicles, what I think to be, one of the best descents into the darkness of humans. Although the entire novel deals with this, the passage manages to address a lot of different fears and thoughts in a style that seems incredibly intimate and close. The fine line between what we consider human and animalistic and how easy it is to cross that boundary is something I find majorly interesting and is analysed perfectly in this novel. What seperates a human being from an animal and can you be both or is there no return from becoming an animal? 

This novel will raise many questions, probably more than it answers, but I think this is where part of its value lies. Some novels manage to answer every question you could possibly have and then, when the novel finishes, that's it. There's nothing else to do and you can move on to the next novel. And then there are those novels that will make you think, lie awake and wonder what could have gone differently, what would have changed as a consequence and what that would have meant. Personally, I prefer the last kind. Novels that manage to stir something that then refuses to be forgotten and has to be thought about, even if only in quiet moments.

I give this novel...


I don't think this is a novel for everyone. There is a certain darkness to it I don't think everyone can appreciate. The questions raised cannot just be forgotten because they don't just concern the characters but you, as the reader, as well. I will definitely reread this novel, and I do recommend it to those who think they can deal with being questioned about their own nature. 

1 comment:

  1. I think you review the book more thoughtfully than I did. See my review here:

    Yours is mentioned.