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Hunters & Collectors by M. Suddain

John Tamberlain is The Tomahawk, the universe’s most feared food critic – though he himself prefers the term ‘forensic gastronomer’. He’s on a quest, in search of the much-storied Hotel Grand Skies, a secretive and exclusive haven where the rich and famous retreat to bask in perfect seclusion. A place where the waiters know their fish knife from their butter knife, their carotid from their subclavian artery, and are trained to enforce the house rules with brutal efficiency.

Blurring the lines between detective story, horror and sci-fi, Hunters & Collectors is a mesmeric trip into the singular imagination of M. Suddain – a freewheeling talent whose poise, invention and sensational sentences have already earned him comparisons to Vonnegut, Pynchon and Douglas Adams.

Back in 2013 I read Theatre of the Gods by Matt Suddain. It was trippy, bizarre and utterly enjoyable experience. Since then I’ve been waiting (impatiently) for his next novel to arrive. The good news is that now it is finally here. Welcome to Hotel Grand Skies, we hope you enjoy your stay.

John Tamberlain is the most contrary of characters, just as I’d imagine most food critics to be. I found myself empathising with his plight one moment, then wanting to slap him the next. Utterly obsessed by achieving the gastronomically perfect meal, he sets his sights on visiting the most exclusive establishment in the known universe. What follows is a weird, episodic road trip. Wim Wenders would be proud. On his adventures, the Tomahawk’s travelling companions are Daniel Woodbine and Gladys Green. Daniel, often referred to as “The Beast”, is Tamberlain’s legal counsel and Gladys is the muscle. The constant back and forth between this trio is one of the book’s many highlights. They often display that level of intense bickering that is wholly reserved for the closest of friends. The Beast and Gladys both also act as Tameberlain’s conscience. They point out the many flaws in his myriad schemes. Trust me, there are many schemes.

I could attempt to wax lyrical about the plot to this novel but I don’t think anything that I could possibly write would do it justice. You have to experience Hunters & Collectors for yourself. Let it wash over you and deal with the consequences of your literary sluicing after it is complete. This book is out there in the best ways imaginable. Yes, there is little denying that the text is sometimes challenging and demands you keep your eye on the ball at all times, but that is sort of the point. John Tamberlain’s life is a rollercoaster of decadent excess and you have no choice but to jump on and hope that you’ll survive the ride.

More often than not, just at the point when I thought I had a handle on what was going on, the plot would veer off on some bizarre unexpected tangent. There will be readers who may find this a little off putting, but I genuinely relish any novel that keeps me on my toes like this. When the characters talk to one another it often feels like you’re witnessing some sort of verbal sparring. Part of you is probably wondering “if this book is so dashed odd Pablo, what could you possibly compare it to?” The closest thing to an answer I can give is that Hunters and Collectors is effectively the bastard child of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and The Grand Budapest Hotel after they have spent a pleasant evening drinking Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters and spooning in front of a roaring fire. I think that is probably specific enough?

In all honesty, Hunters & Collectors defies anything close to categorisation. Part travelog, part diary, part interplanetary thriller. Hell, at one point, I even noticed that our erstwhile hero had misplaced his trousers. I checked and realised I still had mine, so came to the only logical conclusion – we had descending into the realms of classic farce. Like some demented puppeteer, Suddain keeps you guessing with each new chapter.

There has been much pondering about this book while I have been reading it. I’ve come to the realisation that it is one of the most wonderfully surreal and self-contained books I’ve ever read. I’m always delighted when an author really pushes things and goes that extra mile with their fiction. Suddain obviously revels in the worlds he creates. The attention to detail is phenomenal. The tiniest little things have been considered and that level of precision is what really sets this book apart. A quick example – every time a fictional perfume or aftershave is mentioned* Suddain will confirm the tagline used to advertise it. If that’s not a pristine attention to detail I don’t know what is.

I can imagine that Hunters & Collectors won’t be for everyone, it’s literary Marmite. Those that love it will do so unquestioningly while those that loathe it will do so with a passion. To confirm I fall firmly into this first camp. I like little better than being challenged by the fiction that I read. I want to read novels that pick apart my preconceived notions, that play with language and that make me engage my brain.  Congratulations to M. Suddain. Hunters & Collectors is both deliciously odd and oddly delicious. I’d imagine that is exactly what you’d want from a book about forensic gastronomy.

Hunters & Collectors is published Jonathan Cape and is available from 7th July. Highly recommended.

* this happens quite regularly when you are a well-travelled, intergalactic food critic. Style is everything dahling!

Hunters & Collectors

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