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The Wild Hunt


The Wild Hunt

On a small Scottish island, the sluagh return every October 1st. Old rituals, with bonfires, masks and Gaelic chants, have kept these ominous, birdlike creatures in check for centuries. But recently, they have become increasingly bloodthirsty, attacking people and animals on the island and destroying property. When Hugo McClare goes missing after he fights back against the sluagh, the islanders lose hope of finding him after just two days.

Only Leigh Welles and Iain MacTavish, both in mourning and battling their own loneliness and sorrow, continue to try to find Hugo in Emma Seckel’s lovely debut novel, THE WILD HUNT.

"Somehow both dreamy and nightmarish, speculative and concretely real, THE WILD HUNT is a richly emotional tale about home, community, love and self."

Leigh has recently returned home after hearing of her father’s unexpected death. Her homecoming was perhaps inevitable as she was running out of money, options and hope on the big island. She comes back to the house that has grown emptier and emptier since her mother disappeared and her brother went off to fight in WWII, staying abroad after the war for work. Now she is at loose ends and keenly feels the judgment of her neighbors as the 1st of October approaches. Iain is also at loose ends, living with his care-taking mother-in-law as he mourns his wife, a casualty of the war he fought in and survived, and their all-too-brief marriage.

Each has an emotional connection to Hugo, and each is compelled to discover what happened to him and the impact of the sluagh on the islanders. They are also drawn to each other, but they are unsure of their own feelings, those of the other, and their place on the island.

When Hugo returns, Leigh and Iain realize that he is hardly safe and definitely not sound. His strange behavior only highlights the issues that the island is facing, and has been for generations. The world beyond has changed, and the island and its people are threatened as the modern world infringes upon it. Islanders are being lost --- to war, to the promise of better opportunities, to the liminal spaces of the island itself --- and the annual return of the sluagh only makes things worse.

Seckel brings together folklore and themes from contemporary fiction, such as anxiety, identity and place, resulting in a ghost story that never feels silly or pat. Leigh and Iain deal with both the mundane details of post-war life on the island and the supernatural power of the sluagh. From the small community church to the fire-lit beaches to the foggy mores to a mysterious cave under an abandoned farm, they look outward and inward for answers and some peace.

The war looms large here, as Leigh and Iain are struggling with loss and grief, along with so many of the island’s inhabitants. Seckel’s evocation of the geography and culture of the island and its people is rich and vivid, even as the tone is often muted. The writing is beautiful and the story heartbreaking. At times, she seems to be in danger of wallowing along with her characters, but she always manages to avoid that pitfall and keep the plot moving toward its resolution.

Somehow both dreamy and nightmarish, speculative and concretely real, THE WILD HUNT is a richly emotional tale about home, community, love and self.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 12, 2022

The Wild Hunt
by Emma Seckel

  • Publication Date: August 2, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 351 pages
  • Publisher: Tin House Books
  • ISBN-10: 1953534228
  • ISBN-13: 9781953534224