Monday, 8 April 2013

Review of a novel, Harvest by Jim Crace

Harvest by Jim Crace.

I got this book (from my local library, blessings be upon the remains of that fine service!) because the review promised a vivid depiction of life in a poor village on the cusp of the Enclosures. In the early modern era, fields which had been granted in common under ancient rights to graze were stolen by the wealthy to farm sheep, and this background runs under everything happening in this novel.

This will no doubt sound familiar to the modern reader, but Harvest is not an overtly political tale. The protagonist Walter tells of the final seven days in the life of the village. Starting with a mushroom-intoxicated prank that goes wrong, and the arrival of three strangers who raise a rough dwelling and light a fire before dawn, thereby making use of ancient squatters' rights, we see the social fabric of the village come apart.

The writing is excellent in the way it shows the tensions between the law and the feelings of the villagers. And the sheer richness of the sensory environment has been called, with good reason, hallucinatory. The details are astonishing to a modern person; have you any idea how the design of a plough works, or how it feels to use one? I didn't either.

Highly recommended for those who want to know what life used to be like. Who want to know a lost and vanished world.

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