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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

A Kestrel for a Knave (1968) by Barry Hines


Book Review
A Kestrel for a Knave (1968)
 by Barry Hines

  A Kestrel for a Knave, about a young, working-class boy living in a coal mining area of England, is regularly taught to students in the UK, where it was also the basis for a very well regarded film by director Ken Loach.  In the US, the blend of English working class concerns circa the early 1960's and falconry is less accessible, but certainly the story of a boy and his bird carries enough universality to appeal to the interested USA residing reader.

   Billy, the protagonist, lives in a shanty with his slatternly mother and vile older brother, Jud.  He attends the local grammar school, where he has a bad reputation: half slacker, half criminal, and is regularly bullied both by teachers and other students.  Billy is the kind of kid, who, when asked to write a work of fiction, chooses to write about what others would call an ideal family live, with hot meals and a present father.  That sort of world is Billy's fiction, and his reality is a go nowhere existence, where going into the mines is presented as an excellent career.

  Hines writes squarely within the "angry young man/kitchen sink" genre of British prose.  All the characters speak in dialect.  Economic circumstances are dire. The kestrel becomes a force for good in Billy's dim, uneventful life and A Kestrel for a Knave largely boils down to waiting for someone to come along and ruin it.

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