A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines

‘What’s tha doin’ wi’ that? Tha can’t even read!

Joe reached over Freddy’s shoulder and snatched the book out of his hands. He sat on the settee and examined it.

A Kestrel for a Knave (1968) by Barry Hines. What’s this?’

‘Gi’o'er Joe. Giz it back!’

Joe held Freddy at arm’s length. Freddy didn’t want to tell Joe about A Kestrel for a Knave, the inspiration for Ken Loach’s 1969 film Kes. Billy Casper is a boy growing up in a gritty northern town. He lives with his mother and his half-brother Jud, who works down the mines. A Kestrel for a Knave tells the story of one day in Billy’s life. His day in the tough working class community is fraught with challenges, and there’s the sense that, as a school-leaver, the outlook for Billy is bleak, but he finds release with his hawk, Kes. Hines skilfully interweaves memories of Kes’ capture and training with the story of the day to create a touching and flowing narrative. Hines’ prose switches between dialogue written in Yorkshire dialect, and descriptions of the scenery and the town that manage to be affecting without straying into over-cooked romanticism.

A Kestrel for a Knave is a short book, but it’s a pleasure to read. In modern Britain poverty may be associated more with inner-city estates than working class northern towns, but that only serves to make the story of a boy finding refuge in nature more memorable. In the end Hines wraps up the novel with a satisfying conclusion, one that Freddy would not forget for a long time.

‘Anyroad, it’s only a book.’

Joe threw the book across the room. Freddy jumped down and picked it up, smoothing the pages out as he did so.

‘Joe, look what tha’s done now! But really it’s a smashing book this one.’

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