The bleak and beautiful Scottish Highlands mirror a strange triangle—in a frustrating debut.
Into the midst of Highland games in the village of Huil go poacher Mac Seraut and his dog Spot—and the Jack Russell paws loose his muzzle and leaps on a winning whippet, tearing out its throat. After that, protagonists Hugh MacIntyre and Aaron Harding carry forward Scottish author Nicoll’s rich, knowing, and meticulous rendering of the Highlands as a place of awful beauty where interloping tourists are fools and half-witted residents are religious zealots. The disengaged young men begin with malicious pranks—Hugh’s horse chomps down on a tourist’s cashmere sweater—and then move on to acts of bloodthirsty violence, culminating in scenes of rape and murder that surpass Patricia Highsmith at her darkest. The catalyst for much of the bloodshed is Rebecca Hume, who, at the games, flirts with Hugh. Sexually insecure, especially when he compares himself to Aaron, Hugh pursues Rebecca (she’s visiting the Highlands from London to forget a troubling romantic affair). As the two begin a passionate, sensual relationship, Aaron grows wilder: he even suggests to Hugh that they mine tourists’ walking paths with explosives. Eventually, Aaron and Rebecca duel, loading their pistols with tampons—one of several symbolic moments that lands with a thud—and Rebecca’s return to London restores tranquility between Hugh and Aaron, who now plan to travel the world together. The exact nature of their comfort with one another remains undefined, but even an armchair analyst will draw some ready conclusions when Aaron ties up, brutalizes, and rapes his girlfriend, insisting he was doing to her what Hugh said he did to Rebecca. Still, Nicoll leaves their relationship ambiguous, perhaps as a meditation on the treacherous border between friendship and love that the two men tread.
Against a startling, brilliant background, a murky, unevenly realized foreground.