In Paul M. Duffy’s intricate historical novel Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound, a medieval slave interrogates his loyalties during the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland.
Alberic, the son of an Anglo-Norman, spies a chance to break away from his twelfth-century Gaelic farmstead when he begins learning at a monastery. Emboldened, he approaches a local lord, who takes him on a raid. But the spoils include a captured woman whom Alberic is entranced with and later separated from. Meanwhile, the prospect of the invaders arriving fills him with ideas about freedom, until he’s caught by a Norman who was promised the lordship of Meath. Alliance with his captors, though, means being regarded as a traitor by the Gaels.
Fertile descriptions of the Irish countryside, where “fruitfall” and “greensward” meet with poetry and the rituals of kings, abound in Alberic’s three-part account of his problems. His resourceful perspicacity and his leveraged skills at translating also hint at his unusual upbringing. Throughout, the folly of youthful hubris competes with clever actions as Alberic’s outsider status provokes people’s scorn, privilege, protection, and doubt.
The book’s dense historical elements portray courtly feasts and public savagery in visceral terms. But amid curious period details, timeless stories prevail: about love lost, brotherhood and belonging, and the cost of personal liberty at the expense of loyalty, which all result in complicated reckonings. The methods Alberic uses with the invaders and his own Irish people are riveting and tragic.
An eye-opening, high-wire exploration of the extremes that are necessary to survive, the historical novel Run with the Hare, Hunt with the Hound invigorates Ireland’s violent history through a memorable, anguished personal struggle.
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