Hawthorn + Child begins just after 5.29am, when the two eponymous policemen are called in to deal with the mysterious shooting of a young man on London’s Hampley Road. Such specificity in vagueness is typical of Ridgway’s narrative, which we soon find sprawling out over a multitude of society’s many corners. Within just 288 pages, there are keen psychological portrayals of policemen, students, organized criminals, disorganized thieves, young professionals, publishers, drug-addicts, paranoiacs and top-level football referees – the whole swarming ant-hill of life itself.
These portrayals are written in such close-focus, though, that it is often difficult to grasp the bigger picture. Links between characters are only tenuously outlined, and it often seems as if significant information is being withheld intentionally. This is not just a clever trick by a novel about policemen; gaps (in knowledge, in stories, in personalities) serve as the novel’s central motif. So, at one point, Child must deal with a member of The Association of Christ Sejunct, a group that maintains solemn consideration of Jesus Christ in the years during which he is separated from our knowledge of him. ‘Now it’s in you to wonder,’ he says to Child. ‘You will wonder, and you will come to believe things. About what else happened. In all those years. The gap in the story.’
This is a panoramic novel, truncated down to details, fragments. But, as one character later says of his own personality: ‘under all the cracks there is something that is not broken.’ Indeed, so. A human texture runs unbroken through this, the work of a writer not afraid to punctuate. Alert to the cadence of everyday speech, Ridgway has managed to get its half-sentences down in fully-developed prose. Hawthorn + Child is, as Flaubert said of Madame Bovary, a novel held together by the internal strength of its own style.