I’ve ended up reading a few of Neil Grimmett’s books in relatively close proximity to each other – I was sent three of them for review – and there are times when I wonder if my feelings about the books wouldn’t have changed if I read them farther apart. But as I’ve read the books, I’ve started to notice Grimmett’s motifs: shrill spouses, unhappy marriages, men being held back by women who just don’t appreciate them…you get the idea. And it all starts feeling like someone who was working through some serious issues at times. And it all comes dangerously, uncomfortably close to turning misogynistic at the best of times – and The Burnt Fox is not the best of times.
Even if I could set aside the motifs that have started to crop up in Grimmett’s work, The Burnt Fox is far from his best work. It’s the story of a couple in an unhappy marriage (naturally) who take a job working on an estate. Rather than having their marriage revitalized by the change in life and location, though, the couple finds themselves turning on each other, drawn sexually towards the other staff members, and uncomfortably making their peace with being inferiors to their estate masters.
I might well feel differently about The Burnt Fox if I were British, and could draw more on my own feelings about the class system. Maybe I’d be able to empathize more with the characters, or understand their feelings about the people around them. But I’m not, and the result feels like it doesn’t make much sense, or have much interesting to say. Grimmett’s characters seem to keep their motivations bottled up, and while there are frequent references to some “dark presence” that’s truly shaping their lives, it never seems to go anywhere, and ultimately feels more like a baffling side track than anything else.
Grimmett is still a solid writer on just about every level you could ask for, bringing out great descriptions, a pervasive mood, (some) strong characters (I really do feel like his women characters are…difficult…to put it mildly), and good pacing. And there are moments where I’d find myself drawn along by The Burnt Fox…only to be disappointed when it all went in about as flat and uninteresting a direction as you could want. Maybe this is a case of my own issues; maybe it’s just that this isn’t a great book, even though Grimmett shows his usual talent and skill. Whatever the case, for every moment that worked, there were a lot more that just left me a bit bored, and ultimately the whole book felt like an exercise in mood and description that hinted at things but never succeeded at any of them.