The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke – Western Wednesday Book Club – May

This book was on the “read-some-day” pile at my home for a couple of years. The some day came.

I’ve seen two cinematic portrayals of this story (the ‘other’ movie version I’ve seen was Man in the Wilderness from 1971) and I read something or other about the historical events and characters at the time 2015’s The Revenant was released, so the basic plot was not new to me. I was lucky enough to see 2015’s film in theaters.

Please be aware that the film diverges from this book in a number of ways, although the essential premise – a grievously wounded and wronged man lives to seek vengeance – remains the same. The author makes clear in the notes at the back of the book – this is a fiction, a new(ish) telling of the legend of Hugh Glass, survivor of grisly (ahem!) wounds, weather, warriors, and, in this story anyway, eventual finder of internal peace.

The full truths of Mr. Glass’s survival and quest for vengeance appear more or less lost to time. What does seem true is that in the early 1800s while on a trapping and trading expedition, he was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead in the wilderness by his companions. He would, however, live to die another day.

I found the first opening pages of this book were a bit disappointing and not too interesting, but we quickly progressed to chapter two and a small company of trappers keeping watch against Arikara warriors as they try to establish a new trapping/trading route in the western American wilds – (much of the action in the book takes place in high plains country rather than in the no question about it mountainous landscape of the 2015 movie.) We are introduced to “our hero” survivor-man, Hugh Glass before the now-famous (and still exciting and gore-y despite it being expected) bear attack. (The initial fight between the trappers and the Arikara that opens the 2015 movie is only briefly mentioned in the book.) We are also introduced to the sour Fitzgerald (boo, hiss) and the uncertain young Bridger, who will become the subjects of Glass’s quest for revenge.

Glass has already survived being captured by the pirate Lafitte and travelling through the (at the time) wild and contested lands of eastern Texas, plus he’s also survived capture by members of the Pawnee nation. What’s a little grizzly bear attack to this guy?

Glass seems to have been an extremely tough, determined survivor and often lucky man, but I didn’t find him a particularly sympathetic man as a character – while he is portrayed as being relatively decent in his interactions with others, it wasn’t until about two-thirds of the book had gone by before I was able to generate even a little sense of warmth from or connection with this character. That does not change that this is a fast-moving yet detailed adventure story, which I was willing and able to read in three sittings. I found it to be a tale that kept me entertained, although I also found it to be lacking heart.

Have you read this book? Or another written version of this story? Have you seen a movie? Feel free to comment with your thoughs!

3 thoughts on “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke – Western Wednesday Book Club – May”

  1. Great review, VT! You give me enough of a taste that I want to read the book, without giving anything major away (that I didn’t already know). That’s a tough balance and a neat trick to get it right.
    Hugh Glass sounds like quite a character. Is your impression that the Lafitte capture was totally fiction?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Gemma,

    In his notes at the back of this book, Michael Punke refers to a book published in the mid 1970s, ‘The Saga of Hugh Glass’ by John Myers Myers, in which Punke says Myers makes a strong case for Glass being imprisoned by Lafitte.

    It’s my impression that people have been embellishing on the facts known about Glass for quite a long time – and it’s hard to resist including a tale about pirates.

    Liked by 1 person

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