Book Club: with Anna Caig 

At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison

In the 1950s there was an advertising campaign for Cunard Ocean Liners with the famous

line: ‘Getting there is half the fun.’ In an attempt to avoid losing customers to the growing air travel industry, the campaign focused on the joy of the journey; why go as fast as you can, when you can take it slow and enjoy each moment at a more leisurely pace?

At Hawthorn Time, the second novel from Melissa Harrison, was published in 2015.

This is a book about the journey versus the destination. Maybe where we’re heading is not that

important after all; it is what is in front of us in the moment that really matters.

This is a book that taps into the nature writing boom of my beloved Roger Deakin and others. But this is a  nature novel: Harrison is using rich description of the living environmentas a backdrop for her fictional narrative.

There is a beautiful and moving sense of permanence in the rural settings for the interlinking

lives that make up the book. The story is told across several individuals and families in one

small village, but it is in the long and fascinating history of specific, and often overlooked,

rural locations where Harrison’s writing really shines.

The book is at its strongest when delving deep into the sense of place in one corner of a field, or a long-forgotten pathway.

In the face of the centuries-old history of the countryside, Harrison renders the concerns of

her characters relatively unimportant.

The bigger picture belongs to the land.

We meet a young man trapped in a small rural life; an ageing artist who finally finds meaning

in her work when she paints the small details of her world rather than trying to recreate

grand vistas; a wayfarer who takes his time walking across the land and sleeping outdoors.

They have very little in common except their lack of control over any long-term plan for their

lives; they find the greatest fulfilment in the landscape, and in the moments when they

manage to enjoy the journey.

And there are no clear conclusions on offer. The book is about finding pleasure in the small

things; we are not fooled into thinking there will be a grand story arc tied up with a bow. Her starring character is the landscape, and that will carry on irrespective of the lives these mere mortals lead.

A beautifully-written book that cemented my love of the nature writing genre.