White Male Heart

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

White Male Heart is the first novel by Scottish journalist Ruaridh Nicoll, former correspondent for The Guardian and The Observer. Just into their twenties, Hugh McIntyre and Aaron Harding have grown up hunting the massive deer herd on Aaron’s family estate near the village of Huil in the Highlands of Scotland. Hugh and Aaron both come from families haunted by tragedies and have been each other’s constant companions their whole lives.

Although both Hugh and Aaron possess shadowed and closed hearts, their actions and friendships reveal much of their inner selves. Hugh travels everywhere on his spirited horse Sandancer, and the reader—as well as Aaron—realize that Hugh and Sandancer’s mad dashes across the hills represent the rider’s need to grow and to develop and to leave Huil, perhaps. On the other hand, Aaron’s apprenticeship to the aging and cynical black poacher Mac shows his own dark and lawless side, just as his troubled conflict with a minister nicknamed “the Rod of God” reveals his angry and almost fanatical rebelliousness.

The uneasy peace of Huil is disrupted by the arrival of Becky Hume, a beautiful woman from London in retreat from a love affair gone sour. Before long Hugh, who has never had a girlfriend, is romantically involved with Becky, and almost immediately Aaron starts spiraling out of control. Before long he is creating homemade land mines, anti-tank Molotov cocktails, and heaping abuse upon his hapless girlfriend Allison.

Although Nicoll has a tendency throughout White Male Heart to be heavy-handed with symbolism and characterization, the plot is tightly constructed, and dread slowly builds within the reader as Aaron moves further and further down a bloody and violent path to ruin. Hugh must make a choice: does he follow his friend and try to help him regain a sense of balance, or does he finally leave the Highlands as he has longed to do? Down one path lies damnation, and down the other lies redemption, but how is he to tell which path leads to which destination?