Friday, 27 October 2017

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

I may be late to the party, but apparently this book is some sort of classic. Looking for something new to read to my class I stumbled across a copy of Hatchet on the shelves of the library. My mind immediately cast back to the many times others had recommended the book, and lacking any other concrete ideas, I pulled it from the shelf.

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, is a survival book. It is about a young boy called Brian Robeson travelling by aeroplane to visit his father when disaster strikes. Over the Canadian forests the pilot suffers a fatal heart attack. While Brian does his best to keep the plane on course, it eventually crashes, leaving an injured Brian to take care of himself in the wild.

I doubt I needed to even write that much, Hatchet is one of those books that everyone bar me seems to have read in high-school or at some other point in their lives. It has a reputation that makes the book feel ubiquitous, like it's something I should have read, even if I hadn't. Looking over Goodreads, it also seems to fall into the love/hate dichotomy. I can understand.

Hatchet is written in a very striking style. It is written in short sentences, and makes much use of repetition. The book makes statements, makes statements and then repeats them, repeats them and slightly expands them each time.

If I were reading the book to myself I think I might have found the style interesting, but occasionally stilted. As it was I read the book out loud to my class, and the repetition and mixture of short and longer sentences gave the book a rhythm. As if it was always meant to be read out loud. The story had a beat, it rose and fell, was tense and interesting, engaging and dramatic; I enjoyed it immensely.

Story wise Hatchet is is relatively simple, a tale of survival in a harsh and unrelenting wilderness, an alien world to the city-dweller Brian. This is not to criticise the narrative arc, the story is as much about the evolution of Brian as it is about the trials and tribulations he suffers while fighting to survive. The continual mistakes, set-backs and fell chances that befall Brian are counterpointed by the successes and discoveries he makes as he learns to get by. The book is primal; Brian's failures and challenges are keenly felt, and his successes permits us moments to bask in celebratory warmth on our protagonists part. As a reader I felt compelled and engaged the entire time, and my students seemed to enjoy it a lot too (many borrowed later books in the series).

If you, like me, are one of the few people who has not read Hatchet, I would thoroughly recommend it. If you find the writing style off-putting, I suggest reading it as if it is being read out loud, a story told over flickering flames rather than processed silently. I'm glad I read Hatchet, it was captivating in both its use of language and its classic survival story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it'll make my regular cycle of reading material for my classes.

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