Everyone loves the chase, that’s what they say right? In his brilliant new novel The Hunted, Gabriel Bergmoser explores this in the most extreme case. Frank is the owner of an isolated roadhouse, encountering most people only in passing—maintaining the simple country life. That is until a battered car pulls in and out falls a young girl matted in blood and mud. Our concurrent storyline gives us Maggie, a young “something like that” hitchhiker who snags a ride with a city slicker on a trip to find himself; what they find is something far from the spiritual awakening he was expecting. Bergmoser gives us a story where murder is toyed at as normally as weekend sport. It had me holding my breath wondering which side of evil will survive? Will those who are motivated by the notion of death or the notion of life reign the victors of the hunt.
While this book is one of the freakiest things I’ve ever read (Stephen King WHO—remember the name Bergmoser, my friends), do you know what is also freaky? Thinking about the lengths a person would go in the name of survival. Do you know what is MORE freaky (however, not a new consideration) thinking about some of the things people just uh… do? I guess? Is murder a hobby? Like technically speaking?
Before I launch into my irrational—minor but still present—fear about getting murdered in the bush, I must catch you up on some Australian history. In the 90s, a man named Ivan Milat murdered seven people in the Belanglo State Forest, but fear not, he died in Long Bay jail in 2019 *phew*. Now, it is almost a prerequisite as an Australian to watch a film titled Wolf Creek, that is not so loosely based on the murders of Ivan Milat. While Australia has racked up its fair share of true crime phenomena, Ivan Milat is the most infamous and you would struggle to find someone who doesn’t know who he is. While this novel is vastly different, the modus operandi struck a chord with me because the sadistic nature of the crimes explored in The Hunted poses several questions, questions that you don’t often come by in your run of the mill thriller. Also, as aforementioned, it rattled my pre-existing fear of getting murdered in the nature reserve near my house.
In The Hunted, Bergmoser considers morality, utilitarianism and survival through a horrific framework that highlights to the reader how acts of evil can take different forms, how sometimes a choice isn’t a choice but a last resort and lastly how one situation can pose two sides of the same question for those involved. I found that The Hunted forced me to consider the act of murder as self defense and how, while it seems to be heightened here, these considerations are a reality for a lot of women who have been failed by our criminal justice system. As I said, not your run of the mill commercial, one thought and done, thriller.
The story is told in “Then” and “Now” chapters for about two thirds of the book then the narratives merge into one. I truly enjoy the back and forth nature of novels because it forces me to think about how these narratives are connected, especially in the early stages and why the author chose this form. While shock value is also a dead ringer, it is also an opportunity for an author to unpack two different voices and really allows the reader to decide which camp they sit in, especially in the case of this victim/carer difference. I think Bergmoser challenges his readers to consider ideas of good and evil because here, the lines seem to be extremely blurred. Throughout the novel we are essentially looking at two sides of the same coin, but this time it is not as easy as heads or tails.
Without spoiling the specifics, this novel is ripe with gore, horror, and terrifying situations. It is called The Hunted for a reason and while reading it my mind was thrashing over what I would do in this situation. I concluded that I would definitely die; actually no, I wouldn’t find myself in this dumb ass DANGEROUS situation in the first place, but for argument's sake consider me DEAD. However, if I was in a situation that required me to not only run for my life and fatally defend myself against fully grown men without hesitation, I just don’t think I could do it. Not only is it a logistical nightmare I just don’t know if I could find it in myself to commit similar horrors and live with it. Admittedly, death is the easy way out in this situation. The strength of women in survival situations is quite astronomical. I think it is easy, and a bit of a cop out, for male writers to use women as a tool in horror to highlight the power of men. But times are changing and Bergmoser is setting an example of the way women can be written INTO horror, not written over. I think Bergmoser does a great job of not only breaking the mold of women as victims in horror, but rather women as powerhouses fighting against the structures of male dominated and controlled society.
In an article on ABC News from 2019 Julia Baird & Hayley Gleeson explore the legality of women in jail for killing their abusers. ABC reported:
“[The] investigation into the high number of women in prison who are domestic violence victims has found the majority of women who kill abusive partners in Australia end up in jail. But most female homicide offenders are also victims of serious violence themselves, and many claim they fought back to save their own lives.”
It is quite harrowing to think about the reality of the way domestic violence is treated within the criminal justice system of Australia. If you have anything to bite back at that (I’m going to guess you’re an uneducated male), I’ll just say this: if the basis of support/action against these cases, and the prevention of domestic violence in the first place, was improving it wouldn’t remain such a prevalent issue. Legally speaking, the consideration of “self defense” seems to be inapplicable to a broad range of situations:
“It appears that the law of self-defence is not operating as it was intended to operate. For instance, the law allows that a person can defend themselves against the threat of serious harm, including non-imminent harm But in many cases the law of self-defence is not properly being applied because the focus is often on the moment of the killing — whether the woman was responding to an immediate physical attack — as opposed to the threat of ongoing harm, as she perceives it, within the relationship.”
While this is a hairline connection, I think it is important to highlight not only the disproportionate and disrespectful representation of women in the fictional horror/crime sphere but to also provide an informed idea when thinking about characterisation of a woman fighting back. We are not women scorned, or NASTY women, but in fact characters that respond in a way that earns them the justice they deserve, and retain their lives in the process.
Now, I’ll be the first to say, Maggie is a bit of a silly goose. In no way does she deserve to be murdered but like, make better choices sis (if you know, you know). However, this is a horror novel, so what is a good choice. Through this, Bergmoser forces us to consider utilitarian values; does the suffering of few outweigh the suffering of many? I think yes. If the choice was between one or many, anyone would pick the one right? When Maggie is forced to defend herself (remaining vague for spoiler sake), it is easy to justify the horrific things she must do for the sake of saving herself. However, on the other side of the coin we have Frank and his crew of helpers who find themselves in harms way as a result of their better judgement. Would they have thrown this helpless woman to the wolves if they could have foreseen the consequences of involving themselves with her? I guess your position ultimately comes down to whose plight you sympathize with most? It is okay if it is both, and I think it is okay to admit nobody is morally perfect. As I raised the question of whether I would be able to defend myself, similarly do I think I would have been able to help the way Frank & Co did? Nope. I would have called the ambos and got the fuck out of there because BITCH I’VE SEEN WOLF CREEK.
While The Hunted is a horrific jaunt and its fear factor is absolutely through the roof, I think it is more than just a scary read. The Hunted doesn’t ask much of a reader, but I think any decent reader could look at this book and see that it is layered, multifaceted, and truly gives Wolf Creek a run for its damn money. A book is always better right?
By Gabriel Bergmoser.
252 pages. 2020.