Saturday, March 29, 2014

Harvest by Jim Crace

First Sentence: Two twists of smoke at a time of year too warm for cottage fires surprise us at first light, or they at least surprise those of us who’ve not been up to mischief in the dark.

Change is coming and events collide which will change life forever. Three strangers have built a hut and hearth to let the residents of a small, framing village know they are there. This act of smoke from a first fire gives them the right to stay there. The second event is the burning of Master Kent’s dovecote, hayloft and stables. The third event is the arrival of Edmund Jordan and his men. Jordan is cousin to Kent’s late wife. As the land came from her and there were no children, it now legally belongs to Jordan.

It can be frustrating to read a book in which neither the setting nor the time period are undefined. Crace does, however, drop enough hints that one might surmise the setting is England and the time probably in the 1500s/1600s, although it could be a bit later. The story is almost all narrative, which readers can find very boring. However, the book is fascinating and the story compelling.

We are provided with wonderful descriptions and rich language suitable to the time. “Our great task each and every year is to defend ourselves against hunger and defeat with implements and tools. The clamor deafens us. But that is how we have to live our lives.” Even the meaning of words which are arcane are easy enough to understand, and it does add veracity to the narrator.

Crace has written the story on many levels. He describes life in an agrarian setting and struggle to survive. We learn of the coming transition from crops to sheep and the impact that will have on the villagers. But we also see the dreadful results foolish actions can bring, not only to the perpetrators but to the entire village.

Walter Thirsk, the protagonist, brings life to the story as we are told it through his eyes. We learn both his history and that of the villagers. Through his telling, it becomes a very human story; one that has increasing dread. You sense the fear and uncertainty of the villagers, and of Walter. And yet, in the end, it is a story of survival and perseverance.

“Harvest” isn’t a long read, but it is an impactful one. It is also an allegory as to how those in authority can use rumors to raise suspicion and mistrust in order to achieve their own ends. “Today I’m seeing Privilege, in its high hat. Then comes Suffering: The Guilty and the innocent, including beasts. Then Malice follows, wielding its great stick. And, afterward, invisibly, Despair is riding its lame horse.” Lest you think it is a depressing book, it is not. It is compelling and one I found I couldn’t put down.

HARVEST (Hist Fiction/Mystery–Walter Thirsk-Britain–Undefined/pre-18th century) – Ex
Crace, Jim - Standalone
Vintage, 2013

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