What price progress for the peasant farmer?

Harvest by Jim Crace


Harvest should mark a time to celebrate a year’s bounty, but right from the start of Crace’s atmospheric new novel, there’s a hint of underlying darkness to come. When strangers come to the village, announcing their arrival by a smoking fire, normal life is upset. When the Master’s dovecote is set on fire it becomes too easy to pin it on the newcomers rather than drunken post harvest high jinks.

Walter Thirsk narrates the events – he is an incomer to the village himself and even after twelve years still doesn’t feel entirely as if he belongs. He came as one of the Master’s men, but fell for a local girl and was permitted to become a farmer. But Cecily died, so Walter alone again. The Master has troubles of his own; he’s a widower too, and having married in, is not the rightful heir to his late wife’s Manor – his cousin-in-law is on his way to claim his inheritance. He wants to enclose the wheat fields for sheep, and that needs less people. It seems that everything must change.

Through Walter’s eyes, we witness the disintegration of the village in just one week, as friendships dissolve into suspicion once the new Master arrives with his entourage. This small village, two days ride from the nearest town, has never known such emotional turmoil, and Walter is well placed to commentate on the events in both camps, those of peasant and squire.

Crace’s rich prose is hypnotic, laden with summer sultriness. His evocation of the countryside at harvest is truly beautiful, contrasting against the oafish behaviour and poisonous gossip of its inhabitants.

It struck me as I read, that this novel is very much a fable and can be envisaged as a reflection upon our current changing ways of life in the country; thus Walter is the parallel of Harvest‘s author.  This novel, which Crace has declared will be his last,  is one of his very best, and like Walter, he’s now moving on to something else.

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I received a review copy via Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Harvest by Jim Crace, Picador Hardback, Feb 2013, 320 pages.

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