Shadow of the Hunter – Su Tong
I was intrigued with the title Shadow of the Hunter and its reference to an old Chinese tale by Chuang-Tzu regarding the mantis stalking the cicada, unaware of the oriole stalking him. Chuang-Tzu also indicates that he was illegally hunting the songbird with a cross-bow and unaware that the forester was tracking him. The duality and precariousness of the hunter being hunted, creates a novel with several layers that subtly add multiple perspectives to this enticing novel.
The novel is challenging with its complexity in characterisations and the divergent attitudes under constant struggle between modern and ancient China. The characters are unique with many strange personality traits that often reflect the darker side of human behaviour. The characters occupy a society that is rapidly changing from superstitious ancestral beliefs, to a modern society that refutes any power other than the state.
I gradually warmed to this novel rather than being captivated from the beginning. Initially, the style felt very concise and while I fully appreciate the gaps authors leave for readers to fill the story, these gaps were significant and it took a while for the flow and cohesion to kick in. The writing style and dialogue is deliberately distracting and unhinged, as a weirdness seeps from each character. The atmosphere of madness flirts at the edges, especially with the ever-present, Jingting Mental Hospital, as a focal point for either work or patient treatment.
“The hole was waiting there for Grandfather, waiting for him to tumble into it. And that was what his soul had already done.”
The three protagonists, Baorun, Liu Sheng and Miss Bai (formerly Fairy Princess), all inhabitants of Red Toon Street, each lead a section of the novel. The three are involved in a particular crime – one was the victim, one the perpetrator and one the accused. Remember the title! All may not remain the same – revenge and retribution may turn the tables and the hunted may become the hunter. There are scores to settle but cloaked intent and mystery keep this novel captivating. The psychological burden that is portrayed with each character is wonderfully drawn and Su Tong maintains an air of anticipation on how the actions and reactions will be displayed. The balance within each character and between each character is excellent and their uniqueness is enthralling.
Shadow of the Hunter is a great example of Chinese literature that offers these amazing philosophical observations that invite a deeper meaning. The evolving society in China is fascinating and the cultural transitions are intriguing. If you like a character-driven drama, or a read of Chinese literature, or a book that gives you variety or something very different, then I would recommend this book. I would also like to thank Sinoist Books and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC copy in return for an honest review.