i read ‘kestrel for a knave’ as a teenager and it went some way to politicising me. as a scrawny home counties boy it was a ray of frosty light shone across my narrow, introverted, antsy world view. it brought a few questions into focus, questions of my family history and questions of the sharp class distinctions of ‘Thatchers Britain’. i have never been able to watch the film – the book holds a very special place in my heart, though i doubt i will ever re-read it. i sobbed at it’s ending; and i felt justified. and all my basic assumptions seemed to be proven to be without merit. with the benefit of hindsight and with no clarity of memory whatsoever i can offer the observation that it was my first brush with art – the fragile, warm, plastic, breathing, bird of prey conjured in my imagination – it heated my adolescent soul.
i have had a few epiphanies as an artist, moments when my worldview is shaken, seemingly on the edge of breaking; and i felt my appreciation – and my awe – of the world deepen. some of these epiphanies have been short shocks that resonate throughout my life. ‘kestrel for knave’ was one, it introduced me to social realism (which nourished me for a time, before surrealism took it’s place – to be replaced in turn) and most importantly laid down in the humus of my consciousness the value of working class histories.
my reaction to this thin book was strong, it tweaked at my more sentimental and romantic tendencies and somehow revealed them to be insufficient as responses. i had to change to fully comprehend the novel. transmutation. so i suppose with my imperfect memory and the echoes of my hungry little formative heart; that i had my first inkling of art as an agent for change.
RIP Barry Hines author of ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’
more on ‘kestrel for a knave’: