Gill Lewis’s latest novel brings three very different children together to raise a Hen Harrier chick in secret and mount a campaign to stop grouse shooting on the local moor. Joe is the son of the grouse shoot’s gamekeeper and we meet him as he goes with his elder brother to scatter their father’s ashes. Their father had died of a heart attack after being imprisoned for shooting a hen harrier. Ella is Joe’s new neighbour, a city girl who is consumed with curiousity about the moor, its creatures, its way of life and its possible future. Minty’s full name is Araminta and she is the daughter of Henry Knight of Hartstone Hall, the owner of the grouse moor. The book develops an argument about the fate of wildlife on game bird estates, the way that such estates exploit and distort the natural environment and the need for rewilding the British landscape. It’s an argument that is passionate, informed, developed in some detail, and supported by an afterword where the author addresses her readers directly. And it is quite a weight for a novel to carry. Most of it falls on the shoulders of Joe’s first person narration. And it is his love of the moor, his emotional recoil from the killing of wildlife despite his familiarity with all the arguments for it, his feeling of isolation and his openness to friendship, his willingness to look at things afresh and, finally, his conviction of the need for change, that grounds the novel and gives it life. Such is the impetus of advocacy in the novel that it does not always avoid the sense of characters representing particular points of view, but, for the most part, it is carried by a drama in which clashes of generation and class are also keenly felt. Lewis is a sympathetic and compelling writer, observant and perceptive, who credits her readers with intelligence, curiosity and a desire to make the world a better place. This is a novel which will move, inform and inspire them.
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