Book Review: At Hawthorne Time

Book Review: At Hawthorne Time by Melissa Harrison
Reviewed by Celia Chapple

(Available at Durham County Council Libraries)

At Hawthorne Time is the second novel by a freelance writer, journalist and photographer, and it is the latter occupation that has perhaps made Melissa so observant of nature – both human and pastoral.

It is a gentle yet captivating read. The main characters are a married couple moving from London to a rural village, a man choosing to live in his own way on the land, and a young coming-of-age man living with his parent in the house where he was born. Like everything else in this novel, the plot is understated and quietly suspenseful. As the writing unfurls over a month in Spring, the characters are independently drawing towards each other, but for what purpose?

I found myself caring hugely for the characters as they work their way, often painfully, through the life that they have created. They examine past deeds and discover those of others. The reader sees how they perceive each other and is forced to examine their own morals whilst learning about those of the characters. The book has left me thoughtful and emotional.

A delightful aspect of this book is the pencil drawings of seasonal buds and flowers as a diary at the beginning of each chapter, reassuring us that the journey through Spring continues regardless. Chapter 15, for example, begins: ‘Borage, self-heal, first wild clematis flowers (old man’s beard, traveller’s joy)’ whilst an earlier chapter reminds us of the beautiful blue ‘milkwort, cranesbill. Peduncular oaks – first flower tassels. Spring weather: sunshine and showers.’