Top critical review
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on September 12, 2005
Though some critics have said that this book resonates long after they have finished it, it resonates because its message is so bleak, even hopeless. And one suspects that Leigh, an Australian author, is intentionally playing with the reader here by turning "quest fiction" on its head, as she criticizes those who make a conscious decision to sacrifice the essence of humanity and compassion while despoiling Nature for profit.
"Martin David," which may or may not be a real name, is in search of the thylacine, a Tasmanian tiger which may be extinct. In no sense a "hero," Martin is being highly paid by a corporation to find the last tiger and to extract its DNA, to be used to clone it. He is so obsessed with fulfilling his mission, however, that he becomes virtually a hunting machine, referred to not by his name at all, but simply as "M." During days that he is not hunting, he stays with the Armstrong family, dysfunctional since the disappearance of the father, Jarrah Armstrong, and we see some niggling traces of humanity as M begins to respond to the two wonderful, resilient Armstrong children, desperately in need of his help.
In other "quest fiction," such as Faulkner's The Bear, the reader can easily distinguish between hunter and prey and gain some enlightenment about the role of man in the universe as the hunter's respect for his prey grows during the duration of the hunt. Here, however, the edges are blurred. Readers can never sure whether M or the thylacine is really the hunter. As our knowledge grows, so does our understanding of which is the more ruthless, and which, if either, triumphs during the hunt. Though the prose is brutally compelling and the sense of drama very high, the message here actually feels like a message, and it is very grim. Most readers will conclude the novel wishing it were the M's of the world who were becoming extinct--and that, perhaps, is the author's point. Mary Whipple