‘It never really seems to transcend that initial pitch’ – Hunts in Dreams by Tom Drury

hunts in dreamsPublished way back in the heady days of 2000, this reprint of Tom Drury’s fourth novel is the latest in a long line of reprints from Old Street Publishing of the author, whom many overseas regard as one of the greats, but who seems to have missed out on similar accolades over here.  

We were fans of The End of Vandalism, Drury’s second novel, though we had reservations – our reviewer here called it meandering – and so perhaps it falls to Hunts in Dreams to prove Drury’s worth to the literary canon. 

The book is about a family who all want something, often very different things, and the lengths they will go over the course of a weekend to get said things. For the patriarch of the family, Charles, it’s a shotgun which has sentimental value to him. For his wife Joan, it’s the chance at another life, and for their children Micah and Lyris, it’s to grow up in very different ways. There are several other characters who circle this family – an uncle/brother, a loner, a group of hunters, and a doctor. They all fit quite neatly into the narrative, and like our main cast of characters, they all want something.  

The title of the book, from the Tennyson poem ‘Locksley Hall’, describes a man thinking about a lost love. 

“Like a dog, he hunts in dreams, and thou art staring at the wall,

Where the dying night-lamp flickers, and the shadows rise and fall.”

A doctor quotes this line to Joan, when talking about her husband, to which she replies, “He’s not like a dog.” Drury’s characters are all hunting in dreams, striving towards something they desire.

The biggest problem the novel has is that it never really seems to transcend that initial pitch. The characters want something. They spend the novel trying to get it, and often when they do, there’s a sense of irony around either the ways they get it, or what happens once they get it. That’s about your lot in this novel. Drury doesn’t give you too many memorable characters, nor does he give much heft to the writing which is stylish in a bland way.  

It might sound like damning with faint praise, but Drury clearly has a talent. The book can be laugh-out-loud funny at time, and his characterisation is spot on. Plus, despite the slightly bland tone of his prose, his writing does have a nicely odd rhythm to it which after a while, becomes quite comforting. He often takes the long route around a sentence or phrase, but it never slows the pace of the novel down. 

The book is filled with oddly melodramatic moments that go nowhere. A man breaks into someones house, a child runs away from home, a girl jumps from a bridge. They aren’t the climaxes of anyone’s story, and in the context of the novel don’t impact the story all that much either. It’s clearly a choice by Drury, and an odd one at that, but it somehow fits with the rest of the novel. Like Drury’s characters, we readers pick up a book seeking something specific, and perhaps in those bit moments of drama he’s giving us what we desire – something big, something shocking – but it isn’t worth it. 

Any Cop? Like The End of Vandalism, in the end yes. This is an interesting novel, that never quite steps away from the initial idea behind it, although one suspects this was Drury’s intention all along. 

Daniel Carpenter.


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