At Hawthorn Time is Melissa Harrison’s second novel, and follow the lives of four people living in the small village of Lodeshill:
- Howard and Kitty, who have moved from London seeking the country idyll
- Nomadic Jack, who walks to Lodeshill seeking work on a farm, and going out of his way to avoid civilisation where possible, sleeping outdoors and living off the land
- Jamie, who has lived in Lodeshill for all of his 19 years, and dreams of escaping the village life (and acquiring the funds to ‘pimp’ his car)
The novel has a strong opening – you, the reader, are first at the scene of a car crash on an early May morning. The cause, who is involved and the consequences are not revealed at this stage, but the image stays with you. From this shocking opening scene, the book moves back in time by a month, and tells the reader of the events leading up to the accident and how we arrive at such a horrific climax.
I love this book! Harrison writes beautifully, and her characters are well developed. They are also normal. Completely and utterly normal. They are just like people you might see in the street, or in a pub, which is rare today. It’s so refreshing.
As in her début novel, Clay, nature is given a key role in the proceedings. The interaction of nature and man is brought to the fore, generally with negative connotations and a sense that we are encroaching: “It was a new town, still more like a wound than a scar” (1). And there’s a clear message that we don’t always see nature, even when it’s all around us, staring us in the face.
This novel made me feel sad, in some respects, for the way in which sleepy little villages like Lodeshill are dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century, willing or no. Work previously done by man and beast is now left to machinery, industrial units have appeared nearby. It made me feel like we’re rapidly losing what little natural habitat, and ways of life, we have left. But despite all of this, nature endures. It doesn’t care for our trials and heartaches. It carries on, regardless.
If you’re looking for a novel with lots of action, a fast pace and an ‘OMG’ twist, this probably isn’t for you. But, this novel is beautifully evocative, and I can’t recommend it enough.
(1) Melissa Harrison. 2015. At Hawthorn Time. Bloomsbury.