Harvest by Jim Crace
|Harvest by Jim Crace|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A beautiful, imaginative fable about the transformation of common land into enclosures. Often vague, but always intense, Crace isn't for everyone. But he is for this reader.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: February 2013|
Winner: James Tait Black Prize 2014
Winner: 2015 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
As harvest comes in, a village finds itself under threat. Invaded by a series of unfamiliar visitors, it will find itself utterly transformed over a short but apocalyptic seven days. We watch through the eyes of Walter Thirsk as three vagabonds escaping the enclosure of their fields are blamed for the trangressions of others, as the chartmaker Mr Quill enumerates the common land, and as Master Kent's benevolent rule is overtaken by a new owner, who comes with enforcers in the name of profit, progress and enterprise - or sheep farming as Walter quickly realises.
Walter forms a bridge between the villagers to whom he was a stranger only a few years before, and the new visitors. As he shows around Mr Quill, and as Mr Quill gazes upon the beauty of nature, Walter reflects:
My new neighbours were amused by me, of course, my callow eagerness. For them an iris bulb was pig fodder; celandines were not a thing of beauty but a gargle for an irritated throat; and cowslips were better gathered, boiled and drunk against the palsy than stared at in the open privy.
So it's Chaucer, not Keats. And it's the Elizabethan notion of the "country" being a functional place, and when not functional, full of danger and menace, not the Romantic notion of a rural idyll. There's no explicit Albion here, but there is a home, a familiarity and a life led according to the seasons. Crace is vague about time and we can't be sure when exactly Harvest is set but I don't think it's important. This is a dreamy reimagining of the land that surrounds us and the timeless insularity of Britons. Walter is scrupulous to present himself as an outsider, right down to the colour of his hair, but also as part of a community under threat. The coming of the vagabonds at the beginning of the novel is just the first in a series of redefinitions of "us" and "them", not only for Walter but for every character.
I love Jim Crace's writing: the structure, the pace, the rhythms. I love his imagery. Harvest doesn't have much of a conclusion - it's an anecdote, an episode, a pondering. Some may find it frustrating, but I love it for that subtle refusal. It's is a story of appropriation. The specific circumstance of the enclosing of common lands is undertold and so Harvest should be applauded regardless, but it seems to me that it's also appropriate to the various breakings of today's societies. A beautiful and undecided novel for everyman.
Also beautiful and also exploring rural themes, is The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan.
Harvest by Jim Crace is in the Man Booker Prize 2013.
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