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 – arrive 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 . . .
Told in Jim Crace’s hypnotic prose, Harvest evokes the tragedy of land pillaged and communities scattered, as England’s fields are irrevocably enclosed. Timeless yet singular, mythical yet deeply personal, this beautiful novel of one man and his unnamed village speaks for a way of life lost for ever.
Set in an unspecified time in the past, in a green corner of England, Harvest is the story of the last days of a village and the death of an age-old way of life.
It is late summer and the Enclosure Act is making itself known, cutting up and fencing off land, removing it from the reaches of the common man and securing it for the privileged few. But the harvest, at least, has been gathered and as weary villagers rest their bones in ready for the following night’s celebrations, three strangers arrive and set up camp on the outskirts of the village. These strangers: two men and one disturbingly alluring woman, are themselves, victims of the Enclosure Act and have been driven from their homes to live the lives of vagrants. That same night, a fire breaks out in the barn owned by Master Kent, the Lord of the Manor. Suspicion and fear begin to stir; fingers point at the newcomers – they will be made to pay.
One man, Walter Thirsk, knows who is really to blame for the fire. Thirsk, himself a blow-in of a mere dozen years, is now a widower. He is also a born survivor. Keeping himself to himself, divulging only what needs to be divulged, he confides in no-one, except of course, the reader.
Walter Thirsk is the ideal narrator; he tucks us under his wing and takes us through the landscape of the story, pointing out the dangers and the deceits; filling us in on village gossip; shining a light on the powers that be. He draws us right into the dark heart of this village where betrayal, cruelty, greed, cowardice and lust are ever lurking – vices that have been, and always will be with us and thereby bringing a contemporary relevance to the novel.
At times, Harvest reads like a long prose poem; it plays on the ear like a river of words. But then again, Jim Crace is a consummate wordsmith; his understanding of human nature is uncanny and he never drops a stitch from start to finish. All human life is here: its graces and disgraces and there is life too in every small stone, flower and blade of grass. A powerful and compelling novel, Harvest is a worthy winner of the International DUBLIN IMPAC Prize
NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS
As with Crace’s other novels, Harvest is deftly written, in language – formal, slightly archaic even – that reflects the setting it describes. It’s also tightly plotted; less than a week passes from the moment smoke is sighted until the books’ fateful outcome, and yet once underway, we have the sense that everything is inevitable.
Harvest looks at people as the century transitions and its impact on them.