Before I decided to embark on the Great Booker Prize Longlist of 2013 Challenge, I had not read anything by Jim Crace. He’s an author who gets talked about an awful lot, and with Harvest being his retirement novel, there was a groundswell of support for him to win the prize with it. He didn’t, and if his retirement plans hold true, then I guess he’s joining Beryl Bainbridge in Booker Bridesmaid Corner. Having now read the book, well, let’s just say I’m not exactly shocked he didn’t walk away with the big prize on the night.
Set over a seven day period in an unspecified bygone era, the novel is narrated by Walter Thirsk, a non-local in his unnamed village (Crace isn’t being coy. In the actually great opening chapters, Thirsk reveals that they all call it The Village, it has no name). The harmonious arable existence is badly upset when a trio of outsiders set up camp at the edge of the village and Bad Things start happening. The night they arrive, the local manor house is set on fire. The trio are held accountable and punished for the fire. And from there, it only gets worse….
Crace is a fine writer, there is no doubt. The language is rich, the prose immaculate, the whole novel is atmospheric and evocative. Unfortunately I couldn’t really get to grips with any of the characters, which meant I didn’t really care about any of them either. Consequently, I didn’t really engage with anything that happened to them, and found the whole novel to be a bit of a chore. It’s reminiscent of both The Crucible and Gathering The Water, and it’s not a terrible book by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not necessarily for me.
If you are a fan of Jim Crace, you have already read this. If you like historical novels, then you should definitely read this. For my money though, if you’re ambivalent about the genre, Harvest won’t do anything to convert you.