What is this about?: Rudra and his parents live in a small town where his father Cord is a fisherman and his mother, Nayna, a waitress. Cord is abusive and cold while his mother tries hard to give Rudra a home, and protect him from Cord. Into all this comes Rudra’s didima – his grandmother – on a surprise visit.
What else is this about?: It’s about Rudra coming to terms with his Indian and his Australian heritage.
A beautifully written coming-of-age novel featuring a strong voice, set across two continents, exploring the universal themes of family and belonging.
When sixteen-year-old Rudra’s grandmother arrives from India and a long hidden secret is dredged from the bay, life on Rudra’s sleepy New South Wales village shifts dramatically and it’s not long before Rudra and his mother are bound for Bengal on a journey of discovery and danger.
There’s much to like about The Honeyman and the Hunter – for one, that eerie cover finally makes a beautiful kind of sense. Rudra’s confusion about who he is and how he should feel about his Indian heritage is relatable, and the bond between mothers and their children shines through in this.
Neil Grant is a wonderful writer, building descriptions of the small world in which Rudra lives with his parents, and the world his didima brings to their doorstep in the stories she tells him when she comes to visit. The author effectively draws a picture of what the position Rudra occupies when he describes his summer holiday: a young Australian boy, hanging out with his friend like all Aussies would do on their summer holiday, interspersed with the ugly racism of those boys who still think Indians could never be born in Australia, and are all curry munchers and should go back home.
As Rudra points out to them home is Australia, but when his didima comes, so comes a different sense of home for him. She tells him stories of the village in which she grew up and stories of Indian mythology as well that are incredibly familiar, and she also tells him stories of his mother, when she was a promising student who came to Australia to study – and fell in love with a fisherman.
The bonds with the characters of his Indian half are so filled with love that the coldness with his father, and the fear Rudra has of him becomes far too much more pronounced. Cord doesn’t speak much in this story, but his abuse looms large over his wife and son and in every decision they make. I did wonder what story could have been told had Cord been a good man who loved his son and adored his wife.
However, didima dies in Australia and Rudra and his mother vow to fulfil her last wishes and take her back to the village of her childhood. So begins their journey into India, and the people they meet along the way.
In particular, there is a taxi driver who guides them through their journey, who tells them he is going to be the next great Amitabh Bachan in Bollywood – except from Nepal. He tells them how he outgrew his village and his family – just like Rudra’s mother did her village and family, while Rudra is only just learning that is what he can do – that he isn’t tied to the life of a fisherman in a small town.
The Honeyman and the Hunter is a beautiful coming of age story and about the bonds between mothers and their children.