Beautifully prosaic, richly imagined blend of realism and folklore.
This book intrigued me for the tagline if nothing else - A Fairytale of the Great War. I wasn't sure what to expect, and certainly wasn't expecting to be so spellbound with the story.
It's a tale of two people; Mr Sheehan and Miss Williams. Mr Sheehan is considered the town misfit; he doesn't speak, is filthy dirty, and his yellowing, watchful eyes earn him the nickname of the Hawkman. Miss Williams is an American spinster, who takes the man under her wing, and nurses him gently back to health.
As you might expect, there's a lot more going on here than just a simple 'saviour' tale. Using echoes of past folklore, Mr Sheehan is depicted as a transformed figure - doomed to be trapped in a bird-like form, thanks largely to his post-traumatic stress after the war. Miss Williams, in saving him, almost damns herself, and her progression through the story is likewise transformative, though with a less happy outcome.
It's a simple plot, but that really is the beauty of it - without the dense plot, the characters are allowed to fly, and the reader is at liberty to ponder the meaning of it all.
So - what did I love about it? The real stand-out quality is the haunting prose and the clever interweaving of folklore and realism. I loved the notion of physical transformation as a way of exploring the damaging impact of war, and the resonance of silence too; how much can be said without ever opening one's mouth.
Is it an easy book to read? No. The author does make you work at it, because that's kind of the idea; it's not a poolside throwaway read. But the challenge is worthwhile, especially if you're happy to muse over the deeper meaning of it all.
A very good book indeed, and above all else, refreshingly different from your average novel.