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chesilbeach

South Yorkshire - A Kestral For A Knave by Barry Hines

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SOUTH YORKSHIRE
 
A Kestral For A Knave by Barry Hines
 
Synopsis:
Life is tough and cheerless for Billy Casper, a disillusioned teenager growing up in a small Yorkshire mining town. Violence is commonplace and he is frequently cold and hungry. Yet he is determined to be a survivor and when he finds Kes, a kestrel hawk he discovers a passion in life. Billy identifies with her proud silence and she inspired in him the trust and love that nothing else can. Intense and raw and bitingly honest, A KETREL FOR A KNAVE was first published in 1968 and was also madeinto a highly acclaimed film, 'Kes', directed by Ken Loach.
 
 
Other South Yorkshire books:

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Copied from my log: 

 

I'm really glad this was included in the English Counties Challenge. Not only did I really enjoy it, but I think it raises some important points about growing up in this area of Yorkshire at the time the book was printed. 

 

Billy is a teenager, still in the last year of school, but his elder brother is already working down the mines and that is what is simply expected of a boy with Billy's upbringing. Life is bleak for him. He shares a bed with his elder brother, and is often cold and hungry. He struggles at school, is derided by his classmates and simply bullied by his PE teacher (and possibly others). His mother isn't interested in him, and his father is absent. 

 

Given the schooling system of the time, he has been written off by society early on, and he struggles to join the public library - which then pushes him into thieving. 

 

But then he has a kestrel, which he, and he alone, has been able to train. It gives him a passion in life for the first time. 

 

This is written simply, but brilliantly. It's only a short work, but packs a hell of a lot in. Regardless of the counties challenge, I would recommend this book, but for the challenge it was simply perfect. 

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I read this last year, and have completely forgotten to write a review of it. :doh:  I'll try and get onto that this weekend.  Interestingly, it was discussed on a podcast I was listening to recently and they were talking about one of Hines other books and it wasn't that complimentary.

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I read this last year, and have completely forgotten to write a review of it. :doh:  I'll try and get onto that this weekend.  Interestingly, it was discussed on a podcast I was listening to recently and they were talking about one of Hines other books and it wasn't that complimentary.

 

Have to say that I wasn't overwhelmed, giving it 3 stars out of 6.  I didn't write much in my review last May - work getting in the way at the time:

 

Can't be faulted in terms of quality of writing, but found the content  thoroughly depressing; no sentimentalisation here, and probably all too true to life. Glad I read it, appreciated it, but can't say I enjoyed it very much.  Will be interested to see how it translates into a play next week. 

 

I didn't find the play much different.  For me Kes is one of those books I feel I ought to have read rather than want to have read.  George Orwell does that to me too, as do a fair few from that era (e.g. Sillitoe, Braine, Storey, Waterhouse, Hartley, Durrell et al). All this probably says more about me than about the books themselves.

Edited by willoyd

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I did find it depressing - don't get me wrong! It's depressing because so much does/did ring true. But I thought it was excellent despite that. I don't mind depressing if done well - for comparison, The Well of Loneliness was an utter slog.

 

I have not seen Kes. I'm not sure how well it would translate to the screen for some reason.

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The Well of Loneliness was an utter slog.

 

 

Well, there we are in complete agreement, and if it was a toss-up beween reading Well of Loneliness or Kestrel for a Knave, the latter would win hands down.

 

I think what I'm trying to say about Kestrel for a Knave and others of that ilk, is that they may well be true to life, but being true to life doesn't necessarily make it a book I want to read.  For the same reason, I really struggled with Mis-Lit like Angela's Ashes, so much so that I abandoned early.

Edited by willoyd

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I read this last year on holiday, and I think I read it pretty much in one sitting.  It is quite a bleak book, but there are moments of wonder in there too.  I thought it was a compelling narrative, and although I'm not normally a fan of dialect in the dialogue, I actually didn't mind it at all here.  Interestingly, in the Afterword in my edition (written by Hines in 1999), he says that if he wrote it again now, he wouldn't write in dialect as "it can be irritating to the reader and whatever methods you try, you don't capture the voice on the page".

 

For me, the timing of my reading was a fortunate accident, as I was in the middle of reading the Wainwright longlist books, so the impact of nature on Billy as a theme of the book was particularly in my mind, among all the non-fiction nature writing I'd been reading.  What was even more interesting was how our views on wildlife have changed in a reasonably short time.  In Billy's time, it would have been a reasonably common thing to have taken eggs or a bird from a nest, compared to now when we have strong protection laws on our wildlife (I have just read a report about a man who has just been convicted for capturing, possessing and killing a rare species of butterfly in the UK).

 

I thought some of the descriptions of Kes were fantastic. There's a paragraph I highlighted so I'd remember to quote it (as I never remember these things!):

 

"Billy produced a sparrow from his bag and pushed it up between the finger and thumb of his glove.  The hawk immediately pinned it with one foot and with her beak began to pluck the feathers from its head.  Plucking and tossing in bunches, left and right, sowing them to the wind.  Baring a spot, then a patch of puckered pink skin.  She nipped this skin and pulled, ripping a hole in it and revealing the pale shine of the skull, as fragile and delicately curved as one of the sparrow's own eggs. Scrunch.  The shell crumpled, and the whole crown was torn away and swallowed at one gulp. Another bite and the head was gone; even the beak was swallowed, being first finely crushed into fragments."

 

I can appreciate that it is a very sombre story, which is based absolutely in the reality of a working class northern town, but I'm glad I can read this in a book and not have to experience it myself, and while I might normally steer clear of anything too depressing, when there are moments of wonder with nature as there are in here, for me it was actually an enjoyable book to read.

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