I'm busily reading my Christmas present books--this year I am determined not to have a sad little pile of them looking reproachfully at me come June! So when I got home today, I successfully ignored the distressing clutter that takes up far too much of my home, and curled up with The Hawk of May, by Ann Lawrence (Macmillan, 1980). Ann Lawrence is the author of one of my favorite books as a child (Tom Ass), and it's only in the last year or so that it occured to me that maybe she'd written more books, and maybe I'd like them! Fortunatly for me, she did, and I do (here are two others I've reviewd--Between the Forest and the Hills, and The Good Little Devil).
The Hawk of May is a retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, mixed with the story of the Loathly Lady, and for an hour I was lost to the world, as I journeyed with Gawain through an imaginary medieval England as he sought to find the answer to the question "What do women really want?" Making the quest rather tense for Gawain is the small detail of loosing his head if he gets the answer wrong.
It's surreal, and beautiful, and thought-provoking, combining lovely world-building detail with touches of humor. There's magic, and intrigue, and the threat that all Arthur has build could come tumbling down...and there's Gawain himself, who means so well, and yet has much to learn (he's not the brightest hero going, but so likeable)*. It's somewhat meditative in its pacing, with many longish bits in which little Happens (don't expect battles and deeds of daring), but the slow and steady unfolding is shot through with beautiful flashes of the fantastic.
If you are at all a fan of Arthur retellings, seek this one out! It's not exactly a "kid's book," what with its focus on the relationships between men and women; rather, it seemed to me more like that rare thing, a fairy tale for grown ups that is written with the precision and sense of wonder that characterizes the best children's books.
*although why, I wonder, was his having fathered a child that he didn't know about thrown into the story, and then abandoned almost instantly? I was left wondering if it were true or not, and was somewhat vexed.