For the longest time I couldn’t understand books which had nature as an integral theme. I don’t know why but I couldn’t. Then I read “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert and it changed my view of “nature novels” forever. I was intrigued by the genre. I had to read more about the beauty we are surrounded by (albeit what we do with it) and our close connection to the flora and the fauna to speak of.
Human beings, most of them have not understood nature and its significance. It is so out of their line of thought and vision, that it doesn’t even cross paths with their day-to-day life or routine of it. Come to think of it, it is rather sad, isn’t it? To not think of what we are surrounded by and I am also one of them. I am equally to be blamed, however I hope to change that by observing, and perhaps by saving what is left.
“At Hawthorn Time” by Melissa Harrison is not the kind of book that can be read in one sitting. Not because it is difficult to read, but because you need to ponder and mull over what is written. At times, you might even feel that this book isn’t for you, but I beg you to give it some time and you will see its beauty and what it’s worth.
Let me quickly get to the plot of the book: Howard and Kitty is an ageing couple who have moved to Lodeshill, after spending a lifetime in London and their marriage is falling apart – day by day, without a word or indication. They do not have the will to do anything about it and that’s heartbreaking. Harrison has this wonderful knack of blending the ordinary with the extraordinary moments and this is where nature plays a major role in the book. Everything happens languidly, at its own pace. I even thought that the couple’s marriage was like the turn of seasons – that carried out for 30 years and now had just given up.
Lodeshill is a fictitious village (I read this in an interview as I finished the book and was surprised to read that). Having said that, it is as real as any village could be – the mannerisms, the locales and the landscape of village life are accurately and beautifully captured by Ms. Harrison.
So there is this couple whose marriage is on the rocks (or has completely fallen off the cliff so to say) and then you have Jack, a rebellious modern-day hippie who has skipped imprisonment and all he wants is to go back home and reinvent his life, keeping his body and soul together.
And to forget that there is Jamie, a nineteen-year old man who is coming of age and doesn’t know what to do with this life. There is no direction or purpose so to speak and all he wants to do is leave Lodeshill for good. At the same time, he is taking care of his grandfather who is facing dementia and just disappears one fine day, leaving Jamie wondering what happened to him.
Before the reader knows it, there are paths that cross (but eventually) and incidents occur and life isn’t what they all thought it is. At this point, I would have to talk about nature and the big role it plays in the book – it is there – bright, dark, daunting and as varied as you’d think of nature to be. The landscape in which Harrison writes is real, not brutal but definitely bordering the lonely and the aspirational and Harrison just makes us realize the worlds we inhabit. A book you must buy, read, keep, and reread.
This book was also a shortlisted title for the 2015 Costa Novel Award.