The Fugs of January (on ‘Rogue Male’ and landscape)

January has been up to its usual vile tricks in 2019, throwing the not entirely unexpected curve ball of illness (there feels like a ten day void in my memory as a result of flu) and the rather more surprising visit of the OFSTED inspectors (ironically on the day after I had finally dragged my aching and still befuddled soul into school). Still, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger and all that nonsense, right? Right. So The OFSTED have buggered off and promised to leave us alone for another four years (Hurrah!) and the flu has done likewise, only without the same implicit promise (indeed I have strong suspicions it’ll be back around the same time again next year).

One frustrating effect of the Illness And OFSTED double whammy has been the slowing in my reading habits. That said, I did manage to speed through Geoffrey Household’s magical ‘Rogue Male’ in the tail-end fug of flu. Now I am no aficionado of the thriller genre but it struck me reading ‘Rogue Male’ that here is the bridge between John Buchan’s rip-roaring adventure yarns of Richard Hannay’s derring-do and the more psychologically charged tomes of Eric Ambler (still my top thriller writer of choice) and Le Carre. A cover blurb quote tells us that the 1930s ‘Rogue Male’ is (still) “Simply the best escape and pursuit story yet written” and whilst that may be true it is a quote that focuses solely on the obvious narrative of the novel and ignores the fact that, in my reading at least, ‘Rogue Male’ is a book about landscape and (quite literally) our connection to the earth. It reads like an almost hallucinatory anticipation of a utopian hippie idealism hinged on a trigger point of the rejection of fascist threats and as such it feels astonishingly prescient and strangely contemporary. Seen through that contemporary lens indeed it would be easy to view Household’s novel as the smudged blueprint for any number of middle-class hipsters’ mid-life crisis books that unfold with the premise of “I decided to spend A Year in The Country in order to Get Away From Technology and to Reconnect With The Earth (and to write a book about it, OBVS)”. Not that I’m cynical, but hey…

In the best spirit of embracing contradictions then let me also say that reading ‘Rogue Male’ resonated strongly with my own interest in landscape, by which I mean that I’ve been thinking about landscape a lot in the last couple of months, specifically around the notion that landscape touches/doesn’t touch me; that landscape is so difficult to capture well (in painting, photography, text, whatever media you choose); that landscape is real/not real; that landscape is natural/not natural. Will I take a year to think, write, illustrate, explore landscape myself? Possibly. Will I write (a) blog/book about it? Almost certainly/certainly not.

Stephen Prince did this (kinda) with his ‘A Year In The Country’ blog and book which I have also been (kinda) enjoying through the January fugs. The areas that Prince explores are often those that historically I have found peripherally intriguing yet simultaneously struggle to fully connect with. So all that folkloric film and seventies childrens’ TV: I have vague recollections of seeing stuff like ‘The Changes’ at the time but in reality they clearly did not have the same impact on me as they did on people like Prince (and it sometimes feels like almost the entirety of my friends in the virtual sphere, which is to say the only friends I have in the 21st Century which is probably true of all of us and that’s not criticism as much as observation) and that’s just fine. There IS something intriguing about the (electric) technological intervention in landscape that intrigues me but the more I think about it the more certain I am that this interest is almost entirely on a visually aesthetic basis. Sure, there is something mildly interesting in notions of (ancient) power trails over landscapes but I’m no Julian Cope and I still cannot help but treat that kind of dark folkloric spiritualism with a hefty amount of (modernist) scepticism.

I suspect this scepticism, cynicism, wilful misunderstanding (call it what you will) may be a thread that most obviously filters through my own investigations of landscapes in the year(s) ahead but I may yet surprise myself. In the meantime, here are some photographs of electricity pylons.

3 thoughts on “The Fugs of January (on ‘Rogue Male’ and landscape)

  1. Ofsted AND the flu…Hapy New Year indeed. Really enjoyed your landscape links here Alistair but confess that I struggled to ‘get this across ‘ to the more challenging readers forced to ‘enjoy’ the book as it was on the list. They got the ‘rattling good ‘story ok but one unfortunate blew it when his coursework (aahhh, remember those halcyon days?) insisted on constantly referring to “Rouge Male”, which kind of ruined the emphases I think were being attempted.Love the pylons by the way!


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