Publisher: Eye & Lightning
Publication Date: 14th June 2019
This is one of those books that I wish I’d read sooner. It had been sitting in my book trolley for a couple of months and whenever I finished a book I’d pick it up as my next read and then get distracted by something else.
Whilst I was reading it I was thinking ‘wow, this was sitting there all this time and I never knew!’
The Mating Habits Of Stags tells the story of Jake, a 73 year old ex shepherd and farm worker, living on the Yorkshire moors. We meet him after he has just murdered a man named Charles Monroe in a care home and is now on the run, not only from the police but from Charles vengeful son Lip.
We travel back in time to learn of Jake’s relationship with his great love Edith, their son William and their life together living on the moors, overshadowed with secrets.
Edith is now dead and her passing has stirred memories in Jake, meaning he feels the need for retribution. But what could Charles Monroe be guilty of? What could be so terrible that makes a murderer of an old man like Jake?
We also meet Sheila, a woman who Jake has grown close to since his Edith has died. He meets her in the local pub and enjoys a few drinks and good conversations. Sheila perhaps feels for Jake deeper than he does for her and she often goes out of her way to care for him, seeing that he eats and looks after himself up at Dove Cottage, a home that has somewhat stood still in time since Edith’s death. When Sheila discovers Jake’s crime she quite understandably struggles with her own conscience. Should she stand by her close friend or turn her back on him?
The depictions of the landscape, nature and wildlife are so perfectly balanced in this book. I am not a reader who really enjoys sprawling descriptions of flora and fauna, I need just enough to build a world or set a scene. What Ray Robinson does is draw you into the North Yorkshire Moors just enough for you to feel you are with Jake as he makes his covert way over the landscape, which isn’t always forgiving, to make his way back to Dove Cottage for one last sleep before he believes he will be captured.
Jake as a character I found utterly fascinating. It’s not often that the older generation are depicted in such a strong way. Jake is at one with the land, the animals etc. He is hardy enough to survive out in the open and knows the area like the back of his hand. As he travels back in time with his thoughts of Edith and son William, you can’t help but feel the utmost sympathy for him. A man who on the outside may appear brusque and no nonsense. A man who may appear taciturn and introverted quickly becomes someone entirely different once we penetrate his inner emotional thoughts and see how much he adored both Edith and William.
Ray Robinson’s writing is just superb. He strikes the right balance between lyrical and spare narrative. He embellishes detail at just the right moments, and knows when to pull back when it matters.
Pulling his cap down, beads of water soaking his collar and cuffs, moonlight shredded the clouds, and through the raindrops beading his eyelashes it was as if he was seeing stars for the first time – unexpected constellations
The dialogue is unpunctuated which I sometimes don’t get on with but what I found a nice touch with this was the fact that the northern dialect made its way out of the dialogue and into the actual prose. I think I felt somewhat of an affiliation with this story due to the northern words and phrases that are an integral part of my life, a dose of nostalgia always endears me to a book!
This is a story of love, loss and unfinished business. There is so much heart and emotion hidden beneath the cold and detached life of one man who is riddled with regrets. Being able to travel back in time to discover Jake’s early memories and to travel over the unforgiving moors with him feels like a privilege. He truly is a character I won’t forget in a hurry.
I would thoroughly recommend that you get your hands on this book. It is 222 pages of brilliance and I’m excited to now go on to discover more of Ray Robinson’s brilliant writing.
Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx