Home > 1950, 20th Century, Belgian Literature, Claus Hugo, EU Book Tour, Novella, TBR20 > The Duck Hunt by Hugo Claus

The Duck Hunt by Hugo Claus

The Duck Hunt by Hugo Claus (1950) French title: La chasse aux canards. Translated into French from the Dutch (Belgium) by Elly Overziers et Jean Raine.

I’m terribly late with my billets and here I am in June, writing about a novel I read back in January. I am overworked and I don’t have enough time to keep up with everything but let’s be honest, as far as this billet is concerned, I was dragging my feet.

The Duck Hunt is the bleakest story I’ve read this year, it’s even worse than Caribou Island. We’re in the early 1920s in the Dutch speaking countryside of Belgium. The Metsiers live in an isolated farm. Here’s the picture: the father was killed during a duck hunt, the mother has an affair with Peter, the farm hand; Yannie, the mildly-retarded son is head over heels in love with his…sister Ana and the said daughter and sister just broke things off with another farmer, the Fat Smelders. Then Ana meets Jim Braddock, a black American soldier stationed in her village. That’s the cheery setting of The Duck Hunt.

Hugo Claus alternates short chapters, all one-person narratives. We see the events through everyone’s eyes: Peter, Ma, Ana, Yannie, Jim Braddock and even Jules, another villager. The American soldier is the only one who’s called by his full name, probably because he’s the stranger and the foreigner.

Although I admire Claus’s craft –he manages to pack a lot in a short 137 pages – I can’t say I enjoyed or even like The Duck Hunt. I have trouble liking books set in grim villages where unhealthy relationships are born from too much isolation and too much proximity. It gives an unpleasant vibe of consanguinity mixed with crass ignorance. It made me shudder and I wasn’t keen on finishing it and I’ve been procrastinating the billet ever since, reluctant to go back to this disagreeable atmosphere. It’s like The Passport by Herta Müller, a book I really disliked.

It’s obviously a good piece of literature but it’s not what I like to read. After reading this and A Cool Million by Nathanael West, I bought The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald because I was in desperate need of a feel-good novel. I’ve just read it and the billet will hopefully come soon.

  1. June 12, 2017 at 1:11 am

    Glum. I didn’t like the Passport either.

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    • June 12, 2017 at 9:27 pm

      Terribly glum. The kind of sticky glum I don’t like.

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  2. June 12, 2017 at 6:40 am

    I can’t say I liked The Passport, but I thought it told a very important story.
    But yes, sometimes I also just want to read a feel-good story as a reprieve…

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    • June 12, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      I know you liked The Passport more than I did. The story was important but did it have to be this bleak?

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  3. June 12, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Ca donne envie de le lire !

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    • June 12, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      Aussi gai qu’un film des frères Dardenne.

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  4. June 13, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    I suspect I might take to it more, but not presently. I have The Passport but haven’t got round to reading it. Looking at your and Guy’s comments I may continue not getting round to it for a while.

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    • June 14, 2017 at 6:34 am

      I checked but I don’t think The Duck Hunt or The Metsiers is available in English. Or it’s OOP. You’re stuck with The Passport, if you want gloom.

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