Tuesday 18 September 2018

The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

A #DDRevs Diamond Read

Early 20th century/WWI

The Hawkman is set just after WWI in the fictional British village of Bridgetonne, where American Eva Williams takes a position as teacher of mythology at the local girls’ college. There, she learns of a man known only as The Hawkman, a vagrant who sleeps in the hedgerows and scavenges for food. When she meets him in the flesh, she realizes there is much more to him than the closed-minded villagers are willing to see and convinces him to let her help him. She learns his name is Michael Sheehan, that he served in the infantry during the war, he is Irish, and he hasn’t been back home since he shipped out to the trenches. Eva knows what it feels like to be an outsider and untrusted, and she works hard to earn Sheehan’s trust.

Eventually, the two learn to navigate the treacherous village politics created by Lord Thornton (imagine if Bridgetonne was run by Downton Abbey’s Lord Grantham, only he is deliberately cruel) and Thornton’s mostly useless son as they slowly build up trust and a relationship deeper than any could have expected or understood. Over time, they create their own insular world, filled with silence and fragile light and broken pieces of themselves in this quiet, exquisitely rendered narrative of love and friendship, intolerance and fear. Liberally woven throughout are Sheehan’s flashbacks from the war and fairy tales from Eva’s childhood, which lend the novel a dark, otherworldly tone.

LaForge’s writing is ethereal, and her elements of magical realism are beautifully interspersed throughout the novel. This story draws heavily from the tale of “The Bearskin” by the Brothers Grimm, which is perhaps less well known than others of their canon. I found that to be a refreshing change from the more familiar stories of “Cinderella” or “Sleeping Beauty.” It also references documented experiences of English prisoners from German POW camps. The intersection of these two realms is intriguing and grounds for some fabulously surreal scenes. 
The novel is replete with hidden commentary about soldiers, mental health, and PTSD that is still highly relevant and worthy of continual discussion. However, the novel’s slow pacing may be off-putting to some readers despite the beauty of the prose. I, on the other hand, loved it and recommend it without reservation.

© Kristen McQuinn

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