The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate

The Shooting Party takes place in 1913, over three days in October, at a shooting party at Nettleby Park, the home of Sir Randolph Nettleby and his wife Minnie. At first glance it seems like nothing much happens in this novel, but it is one of those books that, despite a slight plot, reveals heaps about the characters, the culture, the politics and the society of this particular time period in England just through the subtle conversations and interactions between the characters and the way they react to the confusing events of their shooting weekend.

Sir Randolph’s daughter-in-law and grandchildren live at Nettleby Hall and there are 3 or 4 couples who are also in attendance. The competition between the best shooters is vicious and occupies the minds of the men while the women tend to the comfort of the party and keep the conversation sparkling and witty.

I was intrigued by the way the hunts were organized and contrived and how the violence of the shooting party, the language used to describe the hunts and the formation of the beaters all foreshadowed the human violence and death that was coming with the war, which the characters are vaguely concerned with. The decline of country life, the rise of the working class and the growing respect for animals and disgust for senselessly hunting them all tinge the events in  The Shooting Party. The tensions these changes are bringing simmer below the surface of the traditional hunt weekend and nag at many of the characters. They all sense that their world is shifting yet they continue in their accepted roles. There is a sense that they have every right to enjoy their lives as they are because what is heading for them is too harsh to bear, though the events of this weekend change most of their lives forever.

This book is not fast paced. It meanders very slowly through the weekend, but it is never boring because there are so many interesting relationships, personalities and histories that are explored and examined throughout their stay.

I feel that I can’t do this book justice, at all, but I did love it and was intellectually stimulated by its themes, language and humor. Why is it that the books that make such a great impact on us are sometimes the hardest ones to write about? I thought about it for many days after finishing it, however I am having the hardest time finding words to relay to you why I think you should read it!

Please visit Sunday or Darlene to read more about this outstanding book!

16 comments / Add your comment below

  1. It is difficult to sum up books like this, but I think you’ve done a great job. Probably not a book I would have rushed out to read from the premise but you’ve really intrigued. The time period is one I love. Reminds me of watching the television show Downton Abbey which is the same decade. Not a great deal physically happens but I just find the details of their lives so fascinating.

    1. It is a lot like Downtown Abbey! It would be a great readalike for people who love the show. I think you’d really like it if you love this time period.

  2. I’ve never heard of this book – or even of this author – but it sounds very intriguing! Jessica mentions Downton Abbey, but I was also thinking of Gosford Park, which is also about a hunting weekend though set in the 1930s.

  3. This sounds a book I’d love, the connection you talk about between the war and the party, and the slow pace together with the detail. Themes to really get into. Wonderful!

    1. It is wonderful, Charlie! The slow pace really enhances the menacing feeling of the war on the horizon and gives a chance to explore the changes that are taking place in society.

  4. Oh I loved this book. I was impressed with how much power it had and yet how subtle and beautiful the writing was that took us on this journey back in time and Colgate did it in only two hundred pages. I loved that she didn’t hit us over the head with her themes. But they were themes you couldn’t miss. I’m so glad you read it and enjoyed it. Rachel at Book Snob recommended it and that was how I discovered it.

  5. I’m glad to hear what you have to say about this book. It’s been one I’ve wanted to read ever since seeing both Rachel’s and Sunday’s posts, and I managed to get a copy during my big Maine book sale haul.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

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