Hawthorn & Child - Keith Ridgway After I'd read this, I must admit that I was unsure why this had been picked as a Waterstones Book Club title, as it certainly isn't one for everyone. However, one morning on my bus journey to work, a man sat down next to me reading it, and we ended up getting into a discussion about it; not something I'm used to doing on my commute (I'm usually too busy trying not to fall asleep into my coffee!) So I'll preface this review by saying that, if nothing else, there's a lot in here to talk about!

There's a lot in this novel full stop, actually. Ridgway's collection of interlocking narratives - to call them "short stories" is to imply that there's some sort of order to them, whereas these are more a collection of beginnings, middles and ends put in a blender and then shaken out over ice - are tied together, sort of, by the figures of Hawthorn and Child, police officers wandering through their North London cases. Sometimes they take centre stage, sometimes they're barely there at all; just figures in the distance, literally in the background of the tale. There are other recurring characters and themes throughout, linking it all somewhat tenuously together; maybe think Cloud Atlas, if you got it very very drunk, beat it up in an alley behind the bar, then set it on fire and pushed it over a cliff.

That might seem like an unnecessarily violent comparison, but then this is a brutal, brutal novel. Real and imagined atrocities twine through the pages, sometimes described in shocking detail, sometimes left stark, implied, and almost worse because of it. But this isn't just a novel of violence and confusion; there's love, hope, sex, adolescence, madness, loneliness and a wealth of the human condition. It evokes more questions than it answers - is there really a pack of wolves secretly running half of London? Is this magical realism or just plain insanity? - and if you're hoping for a mystery novel where you find it all out at the end, well, Hawthorn & Child doesn't even tell you what the supposed mystery was in the first place.

If you're still with me here, then I hope I haven't put you off entirely, because what I haven't said yet is that this book is magnificent. It's dark, romantic, funny, sexy, disturbing as all hell and so, so damn clever. Ridgway's writing is evocative, moving, and perfectly judged, each word in exactly the right place, and it's so easy to get lost in the half-lives and thoughts of its protagonists. I laughed, I teared up, I flinched away from the page, I had to stop in the middle to go to bed and picked it up immediately first thing in the morning. It's impossible to put down not because it's a page-turner, gripping and suspenseful, but because Ridgway's prose sucks you in and you can no longer find the exit; in fact, you stopped looking for it a long time ago.

Perhaps I'm still not selling this as well as I'd like to. But I really did love this; it's something different, something magical and unsettling and so clever I'm sure huge swathes of it went over my head. I urge you to read it. And then find someone to discuss it with, because you'll need them.