I think I should state from the very start of today’s post that I don’t think any review, let alone my own, could really do justice to ‘Hawthorn & Child’, Keith Ridgway’s fourth and latest novel. However, now we have got that slightly awkward moment out of the way let me tell you why, without a doubt, I think it is one of the best books that I have read all year. So much so that I have read it three times, yep it is that good. I could finish there but I won’t, you need more of a push to pick it up than just that.
It doesn’t seem an accident that the opening of ‘Hawthorn & Child’ starts with Hawthorn asleep and dreaming as his partner Child drives them to a hospital to interview someone who has been shot before they are operated upon. There is very much a slightly dreamlike, or occasionally nightmarish, quality to a book which is in a way a novel and also very much a collection of short stories that sort of interweave and interlink and sort of don’t. Do not let this put you off in the slightest because this is actually one of the many things that is so blooming brilliant about a book that takes risks in its writing style and had this reader completely thrilled by it.
Hawthorn and Child are two partners in fighting crime in London. Despite the fact that they are the title characters of the book they aren’t actually the main characters throughout, well maybe Hawthorn is in a way (see this book is delightfully tricky), but they do link all the stories that create this wonderfully quirky novel appearing in the forefront or back ground of every tale/chapter. Nor, again despite its title and the characters it links to, is this book anywhere near your run of the mill crime or ‘literary crime novel’ either. Mystery is definitely the main theme of the book, but not in the way that you would think.
For example at the start of the book there is a shooting, I naturally assumed that this would be the overall story arch of the whole novel, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact as the book goes on, and more thrills, crimes and unique stories and characters appear it fades into the back ground and the mystery becomes more about the mysteries we as people hide from others. A brilliant example of this is when Hawthorn and Child, investigating a suspicious suicide, go to interview the deceased acquaintance that may have seen him last who knows nothing of this case really but, as we see through his internal monologue, may well be a serial killer of male and female prostitutes.
The prose is brilliant, simple, dark, punchy and effective. Ridgway manages to bring London and a whole cast of creepy, crazy and complex characters utterly to life. Just my cup of tea. Hawthorn was probably my favourite, I didn’t ever feel I knew Child so well, a half decent copper who is openly gay (and gets much jibes and ribbing because of it) and who is prone to weeping and anonymous sexual encounters. There is something grubby about this book, but grubby in a good earthy way. I don’t know if you can call a book sexy, and I do not under any circumstances mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way just to clear that up, but it has a certain animalistic nature to it that I found rather irresistible. The sort of writing that might give you a crush on an author. Maybe I am not making sense; maybe I have been lost in the ‘Hawthorn and Child’ world completely myself. I am fine with that if so.
An example of this is one of my favourite pieces/chapters/stories in the book ‘How To Have Fun With A Fat Man’ which manages to several clever things in just fewer than twenty pages. Firstly it manages to be three separate narratives, one is Hawthorn at a riot, the second Hawthorn cruising for sex in a gay sauna (not for the prudish, but you are all open minded readers here I know) and the third a visit to Hawthorn’s father. The latter story stands alone, despite being in the middle of the other two and looks at how Hawthorn copes with his sexuality at work and with his family, plus has a very sweet nostalgic twist brought on by a horrendous tale of someone’s death. However the cleverest part of this tale was that Ridgway writes the riot and the sauna sequences in such a way that sometimes you can’t tell which is which. Brilliance, here is an example of this…
“At a signal they move from the wall. They move towards the others. It is always a confrontation. It is always a stand-off. Hawthorn is shoulder to shoulder with men like himself. He is eye to eye across the air. He is picking out certain faces. He is making calculations. There are certain things he wants to do. There are things he doesn’t want to do. These things are always people. He accepts or declines each face. Each set of shoulders. He is agreeing to and refusing each body in turn. His mind is ahead of him. He is saying yes to that one, no to that one. He is choosing. Choice is an illusion.”
I think the best way to sum up the wonderfully quirky, exciting and surreal yet real ‘Hawthorn & Child’ comes from one of the many characters who could be a psychopath or sociopath or just mad who says “Knowing things completes them. Kills them. They fade away, decided over and forgotten. Not knowing sustains us.” This is a book where not everything is resolved, stories create stories, some fade and some linger, the only constant is the brilliant writing, compellingly created cast, sense of mystery and dark humour which will sustain you from the start until the end and may just have you turning to the first page again as soon as you have finished the last. I have heard some people say this is a difficult book, I just found it a complete joyride. This has easily been one of my reading highlights of the year, again and again and again. I loved it and strongly urge you to give it a whirl.
Who else has read ‘Hawthorn & Child’ and what did you think? I have to point you in the direction of John Self who has done an amazing review of this book, really promoted it and has also a great interview with Ridgway himself too (not jealous at all, cough!) Have you read any of Ridgway’s other novels and which would you recommend, though I have to say I think I want to go and read them all now, smitten?