'Hawthorn and Child' by Keith Ridgway

This is a weird one for me to write. Partly, it’s weird writing this because I gave up reading it halfway through, which almost never happens. Because of its rarity, it’s also noteworthy, and this is why I feel I ought to write this review.

Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway has garnered some good reviews. Here are just two of them, both, strangely enough, in the Guardian, both by different reviewers. [Click here and here.] What amazes me about both of these reviews is that, despite both reviewers confessing that the book is confusing; that it has no plot to speak of; and that the answers to the questions asked at the beginning are never answered, they are glowing, positive reviews.

Now, I am very picky with my reading. I have read good books and I have read not-so-good books, but it is a rare thing for me to give up on a book. Partly, this is because I am stubborn and bloody-minded. Partly, because it’s generally worth reading to the end. But I decided a while ago that life is, simply, too fucking short to waste time on shit books. And, I’m sorry to say, this falls into the latter category.

The dialogue is laid out using the French method, meaning you know someone is speaking because there is an en dash preceding it. No quote marks. This is fine, and I’m even a bit used to it, as Michèle Roberts also uses this method, presumably because she is part French. But it did nothing to aid the reading of this particular book. The aforementioned Guardian reviewers appear to be fine with the fact that the original crime which starts the novel off then peters out to nothing. This has, actually, cemented my opinion, as I thought, well, perhaps the only thing I might have carried on reading for was to find out what all the business was with the vintage car. Now I’ve found out that I never would have known even had I finished reading the thing, I’m doubly glad I didn’t bother and instead moved on to read something else. (Something good, as it happens, and a novel I practically devoured.) Had I carried on with Hawthorn and Child, I would have felt more than a little short-changed.

Thankfully, this was a proof copy given to me by staff at a local bookshop, so I did not feel I had spent money on a crap book.

Now, I’m not saying this is all bad. I reached the middle, which centred (appropriately) on a young girl character and her thoughts. But despite the fact I felt she was by far the most interesting, most rounded, fleshed-out and almost sympathetic character I’d yet come across, she wasn’t engaging enough for me to be arsed to read on.

All this really proves, of course, is that literature, like all art forms, is subjective. What someone likes, someone else will hurl, with some vigour perhaps, across the living room. But I like to think (don’t we all?) that I have fairly decent taste in books. After all, I’ve read rather a lot of them. (I would have no business calling myself a writer if I were not also a voracious reader.) And so this was… pff. A disappointment, put it that way. Quotes on the cover hailed it practically as a masterpiece while also flagging to potential readers that there is no plot. And this is the main problem with the book for me. I need to engage with the characters, I need to want to read on, I need to need to read on, hell, I need to give a flying fuck about the characters. And I didn’t.

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