on 4 August 2009
The Hunt in the Forest is John Burnside's ninth collection for Jonathan Cape, and represents if not a retrenchment, then a return to the themes and forms of some of his earlier collections. In particular, I was reminded of The Myth of the Twin (1994) and Swimming in the Flood (1995), to say nothing of his last Secker collection, Feast Days (1992).
The long sequence - which dominated his brilliant 2007 collection, Gift Songs (possibly his best book so far) - is largely absent here, and the bulk of this new collection is made up of shorter pieces. That is not to say it is a less ambitious book; rather, its mood - sometimes dark - is shaped by the vignette- like feel of the collection as a whole.
Given the similarity of subject matter in some of the pieces, I was tempted to think this could be a collection of out-takes from previous collections, but decided that the quality of the writing factored against that. There is a new simplicity in some of the pieces, such as Saint Hubert and the Deer or the three pieces all called Amor Vincit Omnia, making this one of John Burnside's most accessible collections, and a good place for the newcomer to start.
If you're familiar with his work, you may want to go straight to the handful of sequences in the book, in particular In Memoriam, Treatise on the Veil and the Essays Concerning Light and Time. The latter contains my current favourite image in the entire book, that of the `man in his frock coat and gloves, on the cusp of forever.'