Set in a fictional, rural village, during an unannounced time – which I took as the Victoria era – the book is narrated by Walter Thirsk, a widower and worker of the land, who devoted to Master Kent. The story is set over 7 days and starts with arson at the Master’s property, Thirsk quickly identifies who the culprits are but doesn’t let on as a trio of outsiders – one woman and two men – are falsely accused of the crime. The woman is attractive and many of the men living in the feudal village are intrigued by her. They give her the name Mistress Beldame.
The two men are punished for their crime and strung by their hands in the village for a week, however, due to the poor manner in which they are tied, the father dies.
Master Kent, who has come into money by marriage, lost his wife and child during childbirth and is descended upon by his wife’s cousin Edmund Jordan, assisted by his ‘heavies’ who decide to turn the current income of harvesting into, what he considers, the more lucrative business of sheep rearing for wool.
Despite the fact that he supports and cares for his village, Thirsk is turned upon as more events start to unfold. He is still considered a newcomer, despite the fact that he has lived there for 10 years but, because he is ‘different’ as he does not look the same, he becomes a suspect in the crimes that have started to take place. This forces him back to the side of Master Kent – the man who brought him to the village when he was still a servant. When he moved to the village with his Master, Thirsk met his wife, Cecily, which lead the Master to release Kent from being a servant to work on the land and live in a cottage among the other villagers. Thirsk regularly refers to his wife in the book, still mourning her passing.
Things gradually start to unfold in the poetic writing from Crace as the ‘them’ and ‘us’ between the Lord of the Manor and the villagers gets stronger. Mistress Beldame adds a sense of intrigue and paranormal in her ghostly guise who is the main suspect for the brutal acts happening as we are lead to believe she is avenging the death of her father.
I have to be honest. This is not a book I would normally choose to read but I am glad to admit that this is so very wrong of me. The poetic writing spills out from every page as Crace transport you to the English countryside in days gone by . So much so, that you believe you are there smelling the autumnal air.
Thirsk is a character who you come to enjoy. At first I was uncertain, but at the turn of each page you want to learn more about him, his history and the story he is telling.
If you have a love of the English language, this book is definitely for you. Lines such as ‘The Countryside is argumentative. It wants to pick a fight with you. It wants to dish out scars and bruises. It wants to give you roughened palms and gritty eyes. It likes to snag and tear your arms and legs on briars and brambles every time you presume to leave the path. But this precisely what I most liked about this village life…’ are captivating. My favourite line though is expressed in the love that remains for his departed wife: ‘There’s solace in the thought I will never finish missing her’. Beautiful.
The Irish Times comments ‘Harvest has been announced by Crace as his final novel. If so, this is a premature end to a career that began in 1986′. I have to agree. There is such beauty in his writing and I hope to see more from this talented author.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of ‘Harvest’ by Jim Crace for the purpose of this review. Please note that all words and opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.
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