I firmly believe that we are currently living in a real boom for nature writing. At work I’ve made displays specifically to show off the plethora of recently published hardbacks celebrating nature, specifically that of Britain. For a small island, we have a lot to talk about, whether it be in form of memoir or purely historical count of the land.
I’ve known of Melissa Harrison through her nature writing, and from repeatedly being at the same talks as each other on the topic – and also from that time myself and a few friends gegged along on her evening chatting with Helen McDonald in a bar under a theatre in Soho (sorry about that Melissa!). Because of this, I really didn’t know what to expect, having not read her previous offering Clay, but the first thing that became clear to me is how much the genes of nature writing are expressed in her fiction. The prose is suffused with rich descriptions of the countryside around Lodeshill, regularly to a level of detail you don’t usually see in other fiction writers. This isn’t a criticism however, this attention to detail serves to build up a rich real landscape, and a realisation that the setting of the novel is living as much as the characters who reside in it.
At Hawthorn Time is a quietly paced novel that begins with a (future) bang, and builds up to this throughout the month long story. It predominantly follows four characters – married ex-Londoners Harold and Kitty, both finding themselves stuck and unable to move forward; young Jamie, desperate to finish his beloved Corsa and escape the village; vagrant farmhand Jack, whose jottings on the wildlife act as a header for every chapter.
The gentle melancholy of the characters and the book itself reminds me so much of Stoner by John Williams or even A Whole Life, a recently translated German novel by Robert Seethaler.
Jamie reminds me of many of the people I went to school with and a desire to escape the country I saw in myself – the irony being that now I’d love to live back in the countryside, feeling stifled by hot polluted bustle of the city-lifestyle I’d always coveted. Maybe I’ve become Kitty?
I genuinely enjoyed At Hawthorn Time and it thoroughly deserves its place on the longlist – thank you to Hannah from Bloomsbury Books for sending me over a copy to read.
Why should it win?
At Hawthorn Time a humble, melancholy novel with a living landscape, populated by complex characters whose stories gripped me. Harrison deftly combines and contrasts a narrative of paused lives with the never-stopping persistence of nature.