George Purse is an ex-steelworker employed as a gamekeeper on a ducal country estate. He gathers, hand-rears and treasures the birds to be shot at by his wealthy employers. He must ensure that the Duke and his guests have good hunts when the shooting season comes round on the Glorious Twelfth; he must ensure that the poachers who sneak onto the land in search of food do not.
Season by season, over the course of a year, George makes his rounds. He is not a romantic hero. He is a laborer, who knows the natural world well and sees it without sentimentality.
Rightly acclaimed as a masterpiece of nature writing as well as a radical statement on work and class, The Gamekeeper was also, like Hines’s A Kestrel for a Knave (Kes), adapted by Hines and filmed by Ken Loach, and it too stands as a haunting classic of twentieth-century fiction.
“The purpose of [the gamekeeper’s] life is absurd . . . Marginally, in the vitality of some of the wild birds or animals around him the gamekeeper deposits his minimal belief that life has another dimension . . . An outstanding book, which I read with admiration.” —John Berger
“His ear for the dialect and its comedy was pitch perfect . . . Barry understood class politics, the irreconcilable conflict between workers and employers. His book The Gamekeeper, which we filmed, captured this exactly. The title character is an ex-steel worker who now protects the land of the aristocracy and chases off his former workmates. A life in the open air for him means social exclusion for his wife and family. Is he changing sides or swapping one form of exploitation for another? Barry loved such contradictions.” —Ken Loach, The Guardian
“He has a very rare quality of loaded simplicity, a kind of eloquent stillness . . . it is the marvellously detailed observation of real unsentimental country life which compels attention as grippingly as any thriller. When bolder, gaudier stuff is long forgotten, Mr Hines's writing stays in the mind and nourishes it.” —Sunday Telegraph
“The feel and texture of country working-class life can seldom have been more faithfully recorded than they are here . . . I think this book has a quiet kind of value, easily missed, worthy of any reader's patience.” —Robert Nye, The Guardian
“The eye and the ear for country matters are as lethal as a crack shot on the Glorious Twelfth.” —The Times
“[The Gamekeeper] slyly evolves into implied criticism of the power imbalance between working-class George and the aristocratic Duke. Hines (1939–2016) skillfully writes in the tradition of such North England writers as Alan Sillitoe and Keith Waterhouse. This offers a convincing take on the strictures of class.” —Publisher’s Weekly
“Hines has a keen eye for nature, and his prose is at its finest when describing Purse’s adventures on the lush landscapes, especially his interactions with animals.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A powerfully political novel that sidesteps overt polemic, The Gamekeeper observes, with studied neutrality, the beauty and brutality of the natural world and contrasts it with the wilful brutality of the sporting estate. Our hero is, of necessity, a cog in a system that warps the land and those who work it into status symbols. It is a dynamic from which, nearly fifty years on, we still have not escaped. The Gamekeeper is a compelling novel-as-documentary that deserves a new generation of readers.” —Gregory Norminton