Hawthorn & Child

Their work expressed the belief that human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence

Theatre of the Absurd

I have a sort of blindspot where literature is concerned.

Much of what I read is old.

I find it hard making decisions about newly published books. When presented with hundreds of new releases on a shelf I panic, somehow utterly paralysed. I find myself gravitating to long established favourites, modern greats and cult heroes. Classic novels. Classics tend to make decisions easier, at least where purchasing books is concerned. Piles of new and garishly designed paperbacks giving you grief? Goethe will make it all better. Booker nominations getting you down?  Cuddle up with Dostoevsky. Can’t tell between your Mantels and your Mosses? Fear not, Melville is here.

Whilst I don’t lose sleep over this predisposition to the old and the established, it does mean that I’m a little one-dimensional when it comes to what I’ve read. So, when I received a Daunt Book Subscription as a gift, and was asked what I’d like to read, I replied that I wanted to address this blindspot. Only the new. The newer the better. This month, I was sent Keith Ridgway’s detective story Hawthorn & Child.

It’s a hard book to describe, other than by saying it’s indescribable. Perhaps it’s best not to try. There is a loose plot, which focuses on two London detectives after who the book is named. They’re on the trail of a gangland leader. They try to solve a shooting with no real clues. Nothing fits together.  It’s not really a novel in the classic sense – more a string of loosely connected chapters, which sometimes only briefly touch on the central duo. These chapters can be read in isolation, and some have been published as stand alone pieces of prose (one of the best, entitled Rothko Eggs, can be found here).

Ridgway’s writing style is the real star, and in lieu of a traditional progressive narrative, it is what drives the reader through the novel. He writes in a way that is vague, imprecise and loose yet manages simultaneously to be utterly visceral. One particular passage neatly juxtaposes an orgy in a sauna with a riot, as the always excellent John Self notes – the scene cleverly disorientates the reader as to which is being referred to at any one time.

There are more questions posed than answered, and as you turn the pages, you become acutely aware that you are mentally creating answers – hypothesising what happens to the characters. The protagonists talk at cross-purposes. There are unfinished sentences, there are ignored words – we are left asking what these conversations are meant to mean. In many ways the reader is deputised, taking on the role of amateur detective. It reminded me of the ideas of the Situationist movement, a scenario constructed in order to force the spectator to engage, to create meaning, the literary equivalent of experiences such as Ryan Gander’s Locked Room Scenario or Dennis Sever’s House in Spitalfields. There is no right answer, only perception. This is a novel where the author plays God, but a God who is an absent Father – creating scenarios and characters only to leave them to their own devices, refusing to interfere or get involved, refusing to commit to one ending or another. Like Infinite Jest, the compartmentalised structure means it doesn’t really start, nor does it end. There is no middle. No arc, just data, data which you can interpret as you see fit.

I won’t say you must read it.

But you probably should.


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One Response to Hawthorn & Child

  1. Pingback: HHhH | Tom Darlington

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