HARVEST by Jim Crace

Book Quote:

“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 reapers’ moon, have put up their hut -four rough and ready walls, a bit of 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.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman (JAN 15, 2014)

Jim Crace’s Harvest reads like a simple moral fable of a tiny and remote medieval English village, destroyed externally and internally by the conversion of farms into sheep pastures, but wait! There is far more to it than meets the eye.

Mr. Crace is particularly interested in pairings: everything comes in twos, right from the opening pages.. Two signals of smoke rise up: one signaling the arrival of new neighbors who are announcing their right to stay; the second, a blaze that indicates the master Kent’s dovecote is gone and his doves taken.

Both subplots radiate from these two twinned smoke signals. The stories, narrated by Walter – the manservant of Kent who was paired with him from the start by sharing the same milk – is both an insider and an outsider (yet another pairing). He is not of the village although he has become part of it.

Yet the kind Kent is soon paired with someone else: his pragmatic and heartless cousin, who has come to declare his right to the farm. He has plans for the peaceful agrarian village: “this village, far from everywhere, which has always been a place for horn, corn and trotter and little else, is destined to become a provisioner of wool.” The cousin arrives at a particularly fortuitous time: despite evidence to the contrary, the town has wrongly blamed and pillored the outsiders, an older and younger man, and has placed them in gruesome confinement. The woman who was with them has had her head shorn – much like the sheep to come – and is now in hiding, ready for revenge.

Mr. Crace writes like a dream. His prose is rich and rhapsodic. One example:

“The glinting spider’s thread will turn in a little while to glinting frost. It’s time for you to fill your pieces with fruit, because quite soon the winds will strip the livings from the trees and the thunder through the orchards to give the plums and apples there a rough and ready pruning, and you will have to wait indoors throughout the season of suspense while the weather roars and bends inside. “

Pure poetry.

And he pairs THAT – the beauty of his prose – with some substantial themes that resonate for today’s times our close-minded distrust and demonization of outsiders. Our disregard for the true “tillers of the land” in the pursuit of the almighty profit motivation. Our fall from innocence into mistrust and exile. A munificent harvest that reaps nothing but dollars.

“The plowing’s done. The seed is spread. The weather is reminding me that rain or shine, the earth abides, the land endures, the soil will persevere forever and a day. Its seed is pungent and high-seasoned. This is happiness,” Walter reflects. Magnificently evoked, unsettling, and at times painful to read as the village life implodes, Harvest is yet another testimony to Mr. Crace’s vast talents. For me, it is an undeniable 5-star novel.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 77 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage (September 20, 2013)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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January 15, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Allegory/Fable, Literary, Man Booker Nominee, World Lit

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