Author Jack Bennett (1934-2000) was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He became a cadet reporter in 1957 and later joined the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1974. One of his first novels, Mister Fisherman, was published in 1964 and examined racial tensions. In 1981, Bennett wrote Gallipoli, a war novel based on the Australian film of the same name. Of the eight novels I can identify by Bennett, it appears the author's literary work was mostly outdoor/nature fiction that examined social or environmental issues. Those themes are the heart of Bennett's 1967 novel The Hawk Alone, published by Bantam.
The book examines the life of Gord Vance, an elderly man who lives in South Africa with his wife, Julia. Vance is a former soldier, serving in a number of military campaigns including the South African War (often called Boer). Over the years, Vance has worked a number of professions, but his life's work has been as a safari hunter. After years of struggle, Vance now finds himself impoverished due to the environmental changes that have impacted the hunting industry. Living hand to mouth has made Vance disgruntled with his “golden years” and regretful regarding the decisions he's made throughout his life.
Bennett's narrative is written in the past and present with Vance remembering key events in his life – crippled in a bar skirmish, his military experience, prior hunts and various interactions with his friend Roy. These events are sometimes mirrored by present failures like a horse dying, his derogatory credit at the town store, his truck's engine stoppage and the inability to hunt. Vance's skill-set is shooting, but he doesn't own a large parcel of land and his ability to hunt other lands has dwindled. Bennett conveys these emotional defeats perfectly.
As an adventure novel, The Hawk Alone fails. But, this isn't a disappointment credited to the author or the story. Bennett's storytelling is steeped in Hemingway and exhibits primitive simplism. Bantam's marketing strategy was to present the book as an adventure novel, complete with a misleading cover and the exciting premise of “an aging white hunter takes four teenagers on his last and most dangerous safari.” This is only partially true. The book is an emotional, end of age tale about regret, failure and purposeless life – essentially Vance is “the hawk alone.” The promise of a dangerous safari and four teenagers arrives twenty pages before the book's end. While the finale is riveting, it's credited to Vance's disappointments and Bennett's strength as a story-teller, not a dangerous, savage safari.
The Hawk Alone is brilliant. After the last page was turned, I felt emotionally moved. What you may feel will be in the eye of the beholder, but the novel will certainly make you feel something. The ability to convey some sort of emotional experience on to the reader or listener is the cornerstone of good storytelling. The conversational style of Bennett's narrative had me entranced, but again readers should control their expectations.
Paperback Warrior fans should realize this is a different novel than the usual action-adventure shooter or vintage crime-noir. However, this literary variation was a rewarding change of pace that I think you should experience. I can't say enough good things about this pleasant surprise of a novel. Highly recommended.
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