I finally finished The Revenant by Michael Punke, after struggling through it for over a week. I’m really not sure how I feel about it. I enjoyed it, but it was also such an effort to get through. I think I just really wanted to like it a lot more than I did.
The Revenant is set in 1823 and tells the story of Hugh Glass, a member of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company who treks up the Missouri river in search of…something? (I think they’re hunting, maybe?). A little way into the journey, Glass is savagely attacked by a grizzly bear. He is not expected to live much longer, and two men are instructed to remain behind in order to give him a proper burial when he finally does die. Unfortunately, one of the men who volunteers for this task, Fitzgerald, is impatient and bad tempered (to put it lightly). He orders the younger boy, Bridger, to steal Glass’ possessions, including his rifle, knife and flint and steel. They leave as Indians approach their camp, leaving Glass still alive. Glass makes a miraculous recovery and embarks on a journey of revenge.
The story is great, and one I didn’t realise was true until I read the author’s historical notes at the end.It is full of gritty excitement and tension, yet this is interspersed with moments of unnecessary back story. Each character receives a short chapter explaining who they are and why they’re here, but this doesn’t really add to the story, perhaps with the exception of Fitzgerald. It is explained that Glass had a fiance, who had died while he was away. This could have been used as a vice to explain Glass’s emotional reactions, regarding his need for revenge, but it wasn’t. It was hardly mentioned again and really could have been left out, along with everyone else’s back stories. Although there are so many great moments in this book, the excitement and tension is immediately lost by including these chapters, almost at random intervals.
Punke also has a rather strange writing style. Rather than focusing entirely on Glass and having to story from his perspective (although in third person), Punke randomly switches between characters mid-paragraph. This becomes confusing and meant that the reader isn’t as absorbed in Glass’s character as they should be. I got to a point towards the end where I just didn’t really care what happened to him anymore.
I also found the story quite repetitive. They spend weeks travelling up the river, then spend weeks travelling back down, then back up, then back down, etc. They encounter different problems on each journey, running into different groups of Indians (I know this isn’t the correct term to use in modern times, this is just what they are referred to in the book set in 1823) and different dangerous animals each time. Oh no, he’s lost his gun again; oh no, there’s another blizzard, etc. When I said the story is a good one, maybe I exaggerated. What I mean is that it really should be a great story, perhaps with a different author at the helm. In this regard, I’m sure I would enjoy the film, if not more, than in an entirely different way. The problems here lie in how the story is told, rather than the story itself.
As I said in one of my Currently Reading posts, I also really struggled with some of the terminology Punke uses. He talks about guns as if I should already know about guns. I really don’t, please explain! I also know nothing about wilderness survival and the equipment that surrounds it. I suppose this is my own fault for being ignorant. Maybe people who read Western type novels regularly would have been alright with this? I ended up skipping words and guessing what they mean.
There’s also a LOT of gore in here. They are constantly killing animals (which makes me sad!) and there are some really gruesome death scenes. Not that this is an issue, but it does put me off watching the film. I’m fine reading about gore, but I don’t want to watch it!
Other than what could have been a really decent story, I have very few positives to reflect on. The book was a real struggle to get through. I really couldn’t wait for it to end so I could read something better.
Would I recommend this book? No, probably not.