Told from alternating first-person points of view in appropriately distinct styles, Unsworth’s THE HIDE is structured as two interlocking narratives to mirror the way in which the fates of disparate characters intermingle and affect one another. Josiah (called Josh), the focal character and one of the story’s narrators, leaves his job as a rifle range attendant at a seaside pleasure palace—where he has befriended an older mentor, Mortimer Cade—to become a gardener on the property of the widowed Audrey Wilcox—whose live-in brother, Simon Thebus, is the other narrator. A voyeur, Simon has dug an extensive trench, which gives the novel its name, from which to spy on women and girls, causing him a mixture of sexual ecstasy and guilty torment. In a novel that is partly about the nature of seeing and the moral or ethical dimension of perception, Simon expresses disappointment over his inability to stop time and freeze those moments he desires to dwell upon.
The serpent who invades Simon’s garden is the satanic Mortimer, who presides over the two stages of Josh’s moral corruption: first, by having the young man poke out a baby bird’s eye with a thorn; and then by having Josh arrange the rape of his own girlfriend, Marion, by another young man who is vying with Josh for the exclusive friendship of the repressed homosexual, Mortimer. In the consummation of his pact with Mortimer, Josh learns too late the essential primacy of seeing with the heart over seeing just with the eyes.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XCII, June 1, 1996, p. 1678.
Boston Globe. June 30, 1996, p. B37.
Kirkus Reviews. LXIV, April 1, 1996, p. 484.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. July 21, 1996, p. 10.
The New York Times Book Review. CI, August 5, 1996, p. 12.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, April 8, 1996, p. 53.
San Francisco Chronicle. June 30, 1996, p. REV5.
The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXII, Autumn, 1996, p. 131.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVI, July 21, 1996, p. 7.