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John Hawkes: The Lime Twig
Many twentieth century writers have written books that read like dreams, often bad dreams. Kafka is the obvious but by no means the only example. These books are typified by having no plot or a non-linear plot, strange often frightening characters, unknown to the narrator/hero, vivid images, distorted landscapes, an unconventional sense of time and, all too often, animals that do not behave as we would like or expect. Hawkes is a prime exponent of this style of writing and this book may be his most successful attempt at it. Indeed, the hero of this book, if hero is the right word, has a dream, which he is able to live, but ends up paying the ultimate price for it.
Michael and Margaret Banks live in London. The house they own is where Michael Hencher’s mother lived and died. Hencher now lives in a room of the house as a tenant. Michael Banks has a dream of owning a racehorse and, with Hencher’s connections, becomes involved in a plot to steal a retired race horse and run him in a race. Banks is excited at the prospect of owning the horse; indeed, his excitement can be said to be both sexual (he wants to impress Margaret) and based on the need to put some excitement into his dreary life. However, as in all good dreams, he is somewhat fearful. He has reason to be fearful as the stealing of the horse and the running of the race are under the control of a particularly nasty gang of villains. Of course, he – and Margaret – are unable to deal with the violence from Larry (the leader of the gang), Thick (the heavy) and the others. Michael gets his thrills – including a sexual romp – but the horse – a symbol of sexual power – will kill him as Thick has killed Margaret. Dreams have a way of turning nasty in twentieth century literature.
First published 1961 by New Directions