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Hunters in the Snow, by Daisy Hildyard, Jonathan Cape, RRP£16.99, 320 pages
After the death of her historian grandfather, Jimmy, an unnamed young woman visits his snow-wreathed Yorkshire farmhouse. As she sorts through Jimmy’s papers and describes her findings – unfinished books on Peter the Great’s sojourn in Western Europe; on the travails of the freed slave Olaudah Equiano; on the mysterious death of Lord Kitchener – she weaves in memories of her own childhood.
Daisy Hildyard’s fine and wonderfully original debut novel does not read much like a novel at all. The narrator’s account of life on Jimmy’s farm is memoir-like in its observational richness – on a game shoot, she recalls, birds came “riffling through the air ... like someone was throwing books out of the sky” – while the historical sections are as informative as any textbook. But this generic confusion serves a point: Hildyard shows us that in imposing order on the chaos of the past – through narratives focused on “great men and great events” – history is itself a kind of fiction.