AUTHOR: JIM CRACE
PUBLISHER: PICADOR BOOKS
GENRE: GENERAL FICTION
COVER TYPE: HARD BACK
BLURB FROM THE COVER
As late summer steals in and the final pearls of barley are gleaned, a village comes under threat. A trio of outsiders – two men and a dangerously magnetic woman – arrives on the woodland borders and puts up a make-shift camp. That same night, the local manor house is set on fire.
Over the course of seven days, Walter Thirsk sees his hamlet unmade: the harvest blackened by smoke and fear, the new arrivals cruelly punished, and his neighbours held captive on suspicion of witchcraft. But something even darker is at the heart of his story, and he will be the only man left to tell it . . .
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. Our land is topped and tailed with flames. Beyond the frontier ditches of our fields and in the shelter of our woods, on common ground, where yesterday there wasn’t anyone who could give rise to smoke, some newcomers, by the lustre of an obliging reaper’s moon, have put up their hut – four rough and ready walls, a bit of a roof – and lit the more outlying of these fires. Their fire is damp. They will have thrown on wet greenery in order to procure the blackest plume, and thereby not be missed by us. It rises in a column that hardly bends or thins until it clears the canopies. It says, new neighbours have arrived: they’ve built a place; they’ve laid a hearth; they know the custom and the law. This first smoke has given them the right to stay. We’ll see.
This is a library book. I read and loved Crace’s novel, Being Dead years ago so have had my eye out for him since then. The blurb inside the front cover sounded interesting. Harvest was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013.
I enjoyed reading Harvest but I didn’t think it was anything startling. Being Dead was a much stronger novel. I felt a lot of Harvest didn’t work or add up so I found myself very disappointed.
There are lots of little incidents in Harvest that gradually build the whole picture. I like the way Crace manages to weave all these little strands together. I was compelled to read on and uncover the next link in the chain.
The threat of menace runs all the way through Harvest. There’s always something simmering just below the surface. Crace fairly builds up the tension as tragedy leads to tragedy and the villagers start to turn on themselves and each other. I liked the way Crace handled this without being gory or over the top. I like the subtle way he handles the subject matter.
Harvest is written in the first person, narrated by a man who eventually becomes a suspect for the fire and various other things because he wasn’t born in the village. Walter’s narrative voice was very strong and compelling. This limited the characterisation though. I didn’t get enough sense of the other characters and Walter wasn’t good enough to carry the story on his own.
I had mixed feelings about the sense of time and place Crace creates in Harvest. I think Crace does a really good job of capturing the rural lives of these villagers. Only 58 people live in the village and they live off the land. Crace creates a real sense of their struggles and hardships. I found their fear of the newcomers and their implied threat believable and absorbing. The main issue is that Crace is very vague about when and where Harvest is set. This meant I could get any real footing in the novel. I felt like I was floundering about trying to find something to hold onto. This vagueness really put me off.