BOOK REVIEW: Jutland by Lucie McKnight Hardy

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There is a time in your life when you are in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, reading a story you were supposed to be reading. Jutland by Lucie McKnight Hardy was simply that story, at that time, in that place. The stars seemed to have aligned and well, the power of this story literally floored me. It drew me in with its delectable prose, pulled me along on tenterhooks and then, it quite literally knocked me out with a right hook I never saw coming.

Jutland is a short story from the powerhouse author Lucie McKnight Hardy (which is published by Nightjar Press in a limited signed runso move quickly if you want to capture this wonderful book) – who if you’e been paying attention also has a novel coming out from Dead Ink Books (Water Shall Refuse Them – more details here) which we will also be reviewing here in the online pages of STORGY shortly – so she’s been busy.

But back to our story in question, Jutland. Watching Lucie McKnight Hardy spill this yarn is phenomenal. It’s as if you are watching a painter create a masterpiece, you have to sit back and take in the whole intricate canvas. From the scene building, the attention to minute details which help build the foundations upon the canvas, creating the bones that the whole story relies upon – and her attention to believable and fallible characters (who’s perfect). It is a delight to behold and a sheer joy to read.

Jutland is a beautifully deep story by a writer who is showcasing in this little tale, complete control over her craft. Jutland is mesmerising crisp and the deft lyricism McKnight Hardy shows, which at time comes across like poetry, is at many points, overwhelmingly astute and intrinsically beguiling storytelling from a bold voice.

McKnight Hardy deals with the huge thematic moments within Jutland with grace, honesty, poise and precision. Her careful consideration of the stories structure and her wordsmithery are the key tools which enable the prose to carry the shear weight of what is being dissected and bared to the reader – making it dance across the page, in unforgettable rhythms as if being stirred into motion by a grand composer.

‘She has read somewhere that birds’ bones are hollow. They are filled with air to make them lighter so that they can fly and that is what sets them apart from other creatures. It also makes their bones more fragile and susceptible to damage. You can’t have it all, she thinks.’

I have a little love affair with stories about struggling writers so I was delighted to find that this story, centres around that very subject.

McKnight Hardy weaves a tale of a mother and father travelling to a new setting, Jutland from Gothenburg with their two children, one of which is a baby, still suckling at the mothers teat. We are soon made aware that the trip was mainly for the husbands needs – he’s a painter and is looking for inspiration to strike, so the family descend to Jutland for an extended break, a time full of inspiration, and time away to become inspired. We soon fall into the rhythms of their new world, with the husband busy working, and the wife doing what is expected of her, being a mother and looking after the children, leaving her previous life as an established writer on hold, whilst she drags up these two children (by herself it would appear).

I especially loved the way Lucie McKnight Hardy tied into her deftly constructed prose, the feelings of inadequacy which so often follow the birth of a child. It’s bold and very to the point, and as a father I can also testify to her unflinching account about what seems accepted and what is becoming a routinely common factor. That being that the woman (mother) is no longer seen as the person she was before she had children. She is now automatically only ever seen as a mother, and has to conform to the stereotype of said mother. All her previous achievements, all of her originality and personality, skills and wants are placed on hold. It is an all too common sight, and I have witnessed this myself in the way people looked upon my wife, who is an amazing creative, but for some reason all of this got compartmentalised after our children were born (not by me I’d hastily add – but by the world) and she had to suffer the giving up of her very being. For many years just being referred to as our children’s mother – ‘oh that’s Eva and Sophie’s mum‘ not ‘oh there’s Anna, did you know she is a fabulous artist – has a real heart for mentoring young people…‘ – it just becomes the norm, the acceptable practice, and I am glad that McKnight Hardy examines this with such honesty within Jutland.

You see, I’d seemed to have got away with still being me – quite like the husband in Jutland. Why is it that the male, father, husband can continue being who they are, and have an identity outside of being a father, but for a mother to do so is frowned upon…which I feel Lucie McKnight Hardy really captured in the telling of this story. Her writing about this topic is crisp and a delight to read, helping to lift the lid on such a delicate subject. I’ve read the book (or should I say story) three times now and it’s a shear delight, the weight of the piece gets better and better with age like a single malt!

‘She unhooks the clasp on her sodden bra and offers her breast to the infant. It takes a moment to find her nipple, its head lolling back and forth. Then it pinpoints the scent of her milk and homes in, latching on, its tiny size belying its strength. She feels the dampness of its bottom against the palm of her hand, and at the same time she catches the smell of shit.’

Lucie McKnight Hardy’s attention to detail and the scaffolding around the world around she creates is phenomenal, and a true depiction of the isolation following the loss of who you are to childbirth and the raising of children. McKnight Hardy doesn’t sugar coat any of the forbidding fears and failures, the personal struggles and the matrimonial pressures that being a parent brings – Jutland is an honest, frank and ingenious depiction of parenthood, with a climactic conclusion.

‘It doesn’t flinch. It is busy. It is eating a chick, a nub of flesh and sodden grey down that it holds beneath the claws of one foot while its bright orange beak inspects the carcass.’

Jutland is absolutely brilliant – Lucie McKnight Hardy’s work is arrestingly pure, full of rich, deep prose and told with a beguiling innocence. A masterful work from a brilliantly vibrant voice, telling a tale that many would be able to relate – fabulously paced with a barbed twist in the tale. Exceptional work in the short story form!

Jutland is published by NIGHTJAR Press and is available here.

Lucie McKnight Hardy

Lucie McKnight Hardy grew up in West Wales, and is a Welsh speaker. Her work has featured or is forthcoming in various places online and in print, including The Lonely Crowd, The Shadow Booth and Best British Short Stories 2019. Her debut novel, Water Shall Refuse Them, was shortlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition and longlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award in 2018. It will be published by Dead Ink Books in July 2019.

Reviewed by Ross Jeffery

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