Lawrence Norfolk's third novel takes the boar hunt as its central metaphor to discuss love, betrayal, fear and the annihilation of war. The first section begins in Ancient Greece with the hunt for the boar of Kalydon, then moves to Paris in the 1970s, where the poet, Sol Memel's life echoes the mythological prototypes.
When King Oeneus neglects to sacrifice animals to Artemis at the festival of First Fruits, she sends a boar of gigantic proportions and ferocious strength to destroy the land. The king's son, Meleager, gathers prize hunters to kill it. They form "a new, earth-bound constellation" as they converge around Mount Aracynthus, already "one another's quarry in a bloodless preparatory hunt". Their roll call creates "a palace of sound".
Norfolk's beautifully compelling prose establishes a phenomenal pace, mirroring the characters' charged drive towards their foretold destiny. He creates a dense geography of paths of sumac and oak, wild pear trees, brushwood, sedge, spurge, lentisc, wild olives and myrtle, until Greece itself emerges as a recurrent and potent character. The three strongest hunters, Meleager, Atalanta and her cousin Meilanion form a powerful triangle of desire, for victory and each other. As they move into the terrain of the boar, the narrative is as tense as any urban thriller chase. When victims of the boar are discovered gored by branches of a tree, Norfolk luxuriates in the violence, as though exorcising a part of himself. As Sol Memel suggests about the horrors of the Second World War: "Memories were violent from the inside out. People made them up because they had to."
In the second section, the three mythic hunters are re-created in Sol and his two best friends, Ruth and Jakob, who've each escaped the Jewish ghetto in different ways. Here, the purpose of Norfolk's excessive classical footnotes becomes clear when Sol's masterpiece, Die Keilerjagd--The Hunt of the Boar is published with obsessive annotations by his old rival, Jakob, undermining Sol's integrity. Although the second half of the book is less clotted, the intensity of the hunt is diffused and much less gripping. In the Shape of a Boar is an ambitiously layered novel, in which the reader becomes complicit in the hunt for truth and the creation of evil. --Cherry Smyth [via]