This review is on the advance copy of an unpublished work I received through NetGalley. The Hunter and the Old Woman by Pamela Korgemagi is due for release August 3rd, 2021.
This was an interesting tale – it’s different than what I usually read, and I generally like different. I was drawn to this story based on the blurb, that it was about a cougar (The Old Woman) and a man named Joseph Brandt who, enchanted by the myths surrounding her, goes into the forest to seek her out.
The majority of the book is dedicated solely to the Old Woman, starting from her youth and describing her experiences, growing, hunting, and learning about her environment and how to successfully raise her own cubs. The first ten chapters read very much like a nature documentary, with The Cougar’s actions and intents being described and dramatized only so far as to make her relatable to her human audience, without anthropomorphizing her too much. I enjoyed it in much the same way as I do such documentaries. I am fascinated and repulsed in equal measure by the manner of intelligence and lack of empathy that is required to live as a predator, whose day-to-day way of life is sustained not just by breath, but by the shedding of blood without regard to old or young (or even species, at times), only to advantage or disadvantage.
Then we are introduced to Joseph, likewise in his youth, and follow his journey and obsession to the inevitable encounter with The Cougar. I wasn’t sure what to make of him, to be honest. In most respects, he was a completely average boy… with the exception of his obsession with the cougar that honestly crossed the threshold into madness, in my opinion.
“… Korgemagi completely inhabits her alien protagonist, convincing us not what a cougar is like, but what it is like to be a cougar.”—Michael Redhill, author of Bellevue Square
The Cougar’s world was richly detailed and coloured by interactions with other cougars, such as her romance with the Marauder, her flight from the Harbinger, her vexing relationship with the Neighbor, and of course the unique relationships she develops with her cubs. All of these influence and shape her, so that she was more the developing person, and Joseph was more the solitary wild animal, oddly enough. I wonder if this was the author’s intended purpose, for at the start Joseph is “The Hunter”, so we may deem him a predator, and the Cougar is “The Old Woman”, so that we may see her as a person.
I liked the better half of this book; the development of the Cougar and each litter of cubs she either failed or succeeded in raising and the lessons she learned were fascinating. These were memorable adventures. I hoped for her successes and grieved her failures. She became more human-like, and not so, as the story progressed and I was exposed to her memories, feelings, and dreams. However, at about halfway through the tale, I started to feel kind of lost in what the point of it all was. The deeper we get into the story, the older both the Cougar and Joseph become, and it seemed to me that the stakes were falling rather than rising. Joseph exists as a shadow in the periphery of the Cougar’s story, for the most part. His development as a character is void of love and loss and lessons learned, for he is solitary and the only meaningful relationship explored is with his father, to a degree. Personally, I felt we could have done without his side of the story altogether and been no worse for the wear.
Ultimately, with the experiences and expectations I brought into my read of The Hunter and the Old Woman, it seemed to me like a frontier telling of Moby Dick, if the majority of the book had been from the Whale’s perspective and Ahab’s obsession was driven only by a fascination for the creature instead of revenge. I would be happy to hear the perspectives of others and what they got out of this book. I recommend it for readers who are fascinated by the secret lives of wild animals and nature, who might not necessarily need a strong human connection to the tale.
Is It For You?
Genre: Literary Fiction
Themes: Nature, Man vs Animal, Survival
Writing: Close third-person
Clean Score: 0 for language, 3 for violence, 2 for sex, a total score of 5/9. Violence and gore described in detail, sexual encounters alluded to, mild language. To find out more about my Clean Score, click here.
What did YOU think of The Hunter and the Old Woman? Let’s discuss your thoughts in the comments below! (If you haven’t read it yet, please remember the comments section is NOT a spoiler-free zone!)
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2 thoughts on “The Hunter and the Old Woman by Pamela Korgemagi”
I really enjoyed the first half of this book. The character of Old Woman was fascinating, and I enjoyed seeing the world through her eyes. Joseph’s early story was also interesting, although his obsession with the panther was a bit disturbing.
At times the reptition got to be a bit much. There were too many scenes of her hunting and too many of him obsessing about her, and then too much of the blow-by-blow details of his quest into the forest. Overall, however, the book kept my attention at the beginning.
The last part of the book was completely and utterly disappointing. We become invested in this cat, and then he goes and kills her. This magnificent creature dies because Joseph has an inexplicable desire to destroy her. When he started off into the forest it seemed like he wanted to see her, maybe even live close to her, but not to kill her as he had fantisized about for so many years. Her death was pointless. She was this great creature struck down by a naked, hallucinating madman.
The last part, where Joseph dreams of her killing him and we learn that he has died, was expected and formulaic. Frankly, who cares that he gave himself to her in his dream or that it led to his actual death. At that point, I couldn’t have cared less about Joseph.
The book tries very hard to philosophical and thought-provoking, but it falls very short. I feel like I wasted several hours reading a book that had no point. I would not recommend it..
The ending fell rather flat for me too. I think the story would have been better without Joseph altogether. But then I’d wonder what the point of the story is, other than just the day-to-day life of an aging cougar? It could have been a fascinating fable. But it needed more meaning than it ended up having.