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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything changes and yet nothing changes.
What to say about Jim Crace's writing? Although he has achieved some recognition in the world of literary prizes and awards, he somehow manages to stay under the radar. Perhaps it's because his writing is quiet. He does not go for the controversial or the flamboyant flourish. Yet his writing remains modest and yet all the better for it.

Harvest follows the...
Published 12 months ago by S. Zigmond

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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promised So Much - Failed to Deliver
This book seemed right up my street. I enjoy historical fiction and here the story of a village facing sudden new threats - enclosure of the land, which threatens their whole way of life, the arrival of strangers, both poor and powerless and wealthy and powerful, and the whisper of witchery - sounds extremely promising. The writing is, at its best, plain, poetic and...
Published 12 months ago by wolf


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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything changes and yet nothing changes., 30 Mar 2013
By 
S. Zigmond (Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harvest (Hardcover)
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What to say about Jim Crace's writing? Although he has achieved some recognition in the world of literary prizes and awards, he somehow manages to stay under the radar. Perhaps it's because his writing is quiet. He does not go for the controversial or the flamboyant flourish. Yet his writing remains modest and yet all the better for it.

Harvest follows the week in the life of a small un-named English community. We are not told where it is or when the events described happened. And don you know what? It doesn;t matter. It was 'once upon a time.' The novel opens the morning after the barley has all been gathered. Smoke hangs in the air. Something is wrong. This sense of disquiet deepens as a village lynch mob attack a group of three innocent strangers. The search for a woman among the strangers becomes a witch-hunt. Walter Thirsk, the novel's narrator and himself an erstwhile outsider in the community, is aware of the deeply disturbing currents of a changing society and the evil comes from within not out.

We twentieth-century western dwellers are confused about the past. We see it through rose-tinted lenses, according to our own lives. 'Things were uncomplicated,' we say. 'People knew their place, the agricultural life mirrored the seasons. Times were hard but everything was in balance.' Harvest-time conjures up bucolic jollity, companionship, a full barn, rosy-cheeks and a well-ordered world. But we can only look back because of the benefits modern life has brought us. But mostly life is what it is. We do not learn from the past and nothing changes. Humans havealways been suspicious of the new and the different. We are cruel; fear makes us as dangerous as a beast cornered. In Crace's community, sheep-farming is to replace the arable and there's nothing anyone can do about it. The people are ignorant, sensitive only to their own fearful ignorance. When the new landlord introduces sheep, he also intends to build a church where none has stood before, For the good of the people, the flock?

Written in a deceptively simple style, Crace lays down layer upon layer of timeless disquietude. There is no such thing as history. It is always a construction of our own myths and ignorance. Crace's novels need to be read slowly: absorbed, savoured and considered. Peel away the layers of text and you will find symbolism and eternal myth.

No-one writes like Jim Crace. I have heard this may be his last published novel but to me, this author is eternal. I can read him again and again.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful story, surprising page-turner, 9 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Harvest (Kindle Edition)
I was astounded by how simple and yet how marvellous this novel was. It was the story of Walter Thirsk, a labourer in a village at the time of Harvest. Strangers appear and with them a whole chain of events starts, which ends in a change for everyone, not least the protagonist.
And yet it seems that there are no specific, particular events which happen. Rather, it is organic, each day merging with the one before and the one after even if each day brings us a step further towards the end. One sees the colours and feels the atmosphere of the harvest, of the rain. I was completely caught up in the story, reading for hours at a time, pulled forward by the magnificent writing.
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42 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The newcomers were punished unjustly because of our men's deceit and silence, and now the smaller one is dead", 3 Mar 2013
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harvest (Hardcover)
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In this short, though poetic and deeply resonant book, Crace delivers a deceptively simple story, yet one which is far darker and more complex than a straightforward elegy for a now lost way of English life. Set in an unnamed agricultural village, at an unstated point in time, this is ostensibly a nostalgic portrait of rural life at the point at which common land is being transformed by enclosure, and a subsistence life-style overtaken by capitalist farming for profit.

But the narrative, given to us by Walter Thirsk, himself an incomer to the village and one, somehow, still somewhat marginalised, refuses to stick to this agenda. The village, it turns out, was always a disturbing place: rather than a pastoral idyll, it is a place of violence, bloodshed, death and conspiratorial silence; a place where a lone woman can be hunted at night through the dark woods because she is fair game. And the villagers, with their serf-like existence, were never owners of the `common land' but are themselves completely dependent on the lord of the manor.

With its themes of displacement, economic and social progress, alienation, migration, power and identity (Walter frequently speaks through the `we' of the community rather than the `I' of the individual - ironically, given his own marginalised status) this is, on one level, a fable completely at home in the twenty-first century. On another level, it re-enacts the story of the garden of Eden - though the illusion of any kind of `golden world' is solidly resisted by the narrative.

Crace's prose is, typically, dense, resonant, mythic, allusive and yet also earthy and very material. This may pose as a nostalgic tale of a lost England - but the story is never as uncomplicated and unambiguous as that implies.

Recommended as a dense and very thoughtful read that defies easy categorisation.
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promised So Much - Failed to Deliver, 5 April 2013
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wolf (East Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harvest (Hardcover)
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This book seemed right up my street. I enjoy historical fiction and here the story of a village facing sudden new threats - enclosure of the land, which threatens their whole way of life, the arrival of strangers, both poor and powerless and wealthy and powerful, and the whisper of witchery - sounds extremely promising. The writing is, at its best, plain, poetic and beautiful. It should have been great.

It actually starts very well - the writing is at its best here. It is easy to read. The historical world, the time period never clearly specified, is drawn in swift deft strokes. The life of the village seems real and concrete, from the banter of the harvesters to the harvest festivities that follow. Sadly, this is not kept up and flaws that are present right from the start become more obvious and troubling as the story progresses.

Part of the problem is the narrator and his voice. Walter Thirsk is an incomer to the village, who arrived with the new lord of the manor, Master Kent, but became a villager when he married a local. The idea is that this allows the author to play with concepts of belonging, of what being a villager means and of loyalties. It doesn't quite work because Walter Thirsk never fully emerges as a person. He had been Master Kent's 'man' apparently but roles or functions he performed for him are unclear. It gives the impression that this was never worked out and so an important part of Thirsk's life is undeveloped.

Also, Thirsk somehow manages to be absent during many of the most important events that take place. We get his secondhand account of events told to him by others for no obvious gain. These secondary characters never really take on any life of their own. None of them ever gain any depth or solidity.

More grating, for me, is the way that Crace constantly works in rural and agricultural similes, metaphors and conceits into Thirsk's way of talking. Of course people do use the things they are familiar with to express themselves, but the extent to which Thirsk refers to himself and fellow villagers in terms that recall the earth, the land, seeds germinating and animals grazing means that it begins to be a very obvious stylistic tick. The more he does it, the more it grates. English students might discuss at length the use of these symbols in essays but they just appear too heavy handed in their use for me.

Perhaps because of these problems, I found myself not fully engaging with the story. As a result, other issues begin to raise their head. The time period when this is set is kept deliberately vague. That, I suspect, is part of Crace's point. The way of life destroyed by enclosure was one that had endured for centuries. To some extent, it is a story that could be set at any point between and during the thirteenth and the seventeeth centuries. Early on we might well suspect the setting is in the medieval period. It comes as something of a shock when three quarters of the way through we discover references to puritans and pipe smoking and realise that this must be set in the seventeenth century. But this vagueness is a problem. Life was not utterly unchanging - even in rural England - during this period. Did the religious upheavals have no effect on life at all, even if they do lack any formal church? When vagabonds come to their village (escaping enclosure elsewhere) why does not the lord of the manor appear to be aware that vagrants should be put in the stocks for no other reason than being vagabonds? Why does no-one have a firearm if the setting is so late? The more we think about it, the less sense it makes.

There are some major plot problems too. I have no wish to spoil the book for those reading but when accusations of witchcraft are made the finger is finally pointed at a character who, one might think, would not be a scapegoat those in power would be so happy to see done away with. This is, of course, to ignore the problem that the reaction to such accusations appears to owe more to watching the film 'Witchfinder General' than the reality of how such allegations tended to be dealt with in England, where a ducking was more likely than a burning.

The ending makes little sense. It is as if even the author has lost interest in plausibly resolving the plot threads and simply wraps things up as quickly as possible.

A quote on the cover calls the writing 'hallucinatory'. That is a very apt description; 'dream-like' might also describe it. It is at times astonishing, clear and beautiful; it is also insubstantial, a gossamer thin artful confection that falls apart as you look at it.

I am sorry that it really did not work for me. Obviously, others have enjoyed this book much more than I did and I am in a minority of reviewers here. It may be that it will be more successful for you than. Personally, however, I cannot recommend this book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written novel about fear, suspicion and the end of an era, 17 Nov 2013
By 
Joanne Sheppard "Being Obscure Clearly" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harvest (Hardcover)
Before the publication of the Booker-shortlisted Harvest, Jim Crace said he thought it would be his last novel, which somehow makes this book about a middle-aged narrator witnessing the end of a long-standing way of life and struggling to come to terms with it even more poignant.

Walter Thirsk, an inhabitant of a tiny, unnamed English village in an unspecified period, is something of an outsider, even though he's been resident for many years and was, until the death of his wife, married into one of its longest-established families. Walter is an astute observer with an eye for the bigger picture - perhaps this is what makes him the ideal assistant to the chart-maker who has arrived to map out the land on which the villagers scratch out a living communally under the direction of a manor-dwelling landowner. Walter has never seen a map of his village before despite his intimate knowledge of it (similarly, he hasn't seen his own face for over a year because nobody in the village owns a mirror) and is fascinated to see its shape unfolding on the chart-maker's page. Yet seeing the land mapped out also contributes to the sense of dread which pervades Harvest, as it's clear that the land is to be 'enclosed' - fenced off for sheep-farming instead of cultivated for crops and cattle - and that this will change the villagers' lives forever.

Harvest is not just a novel about the end of an era. It's about fear, suspicion and guilt, and the effect these have on the behaviour of otherwise decent people. Innocent strangers from another village, themselves victims 'of sheep', are pilloried without mercy for a crime the whole village secretly knows they didn't commit; family members tortured by the new landowner's stewards are abandoned to their fate. Walter's own position on the edge of the insular, 'thicketed' village community is a constant source of anxiety to him, and it's ironic that he and the other outsiders might just find themselves the last people left who can keep the village alive.

Crace's prose is astonishingly good, peppered with arresting and original imagery that gives Walter a distinctive and peculiarly convincing voice. It's fair to say that, despite the magnitude of the change that comes over the village during the course of the novel, this isn't a fast-moving narrative and many of the most dramatic events take place off the page, but I found Crace's writing such a pleasure to read that I didn't mind this at all - and in any case the sense of anxious dread that builds throughout creates tension in itself. Some have also criticised this novel for its non-specific historical setting and hence a perceived lack of 'accuracy', but this isn't intended to be a historical novel; it's more than that, and explores themes and truths about human nature that would be every bit as relevant if the setting was a contemporary one.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harvest, 14 Oct 2013
This review is from: Harvest (Hardcover)
Harvest is Jim Crace's captivating portrayal of how quickly and easily communities can be torn apart by jealousy, fear and suspicion. In an unnamed village way back when, the arrival of a surveyor sent to determine the best means of land enclosure shocks the locals and fear of incoming `modern' ways ripples through the community. When a fire destroys property belonging to the local landowner, tensions and resentments that have been bubbling away beneath the apparently peaceful surface of village life burst forth and, seeking someone to blame for their fears, the villagers turn on any and all outsiders they can find. Over the course of a week, relative newcomer to the village Walter Thirsk narrates as his community descends into chaos and darkness. Harvest is a haunting investigation of the dangers of fear and xenophobia and just how easy it is to blame anyone or anything `Other' for our own troubles and anxieties.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Things fall apart...the centre cannot hold, 11 Mar 2013
By 
Sensible Cat (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harvest (Hardcover)
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I would have to agree with an earlier reviewer; this is a book to read, if at all possible, at a single sitting. It draws you totally into its world, a world both particular and universal. The obscure rural community where events unfold - lacking even a church, it can barely be dignified by the name "village" - is described in minutely convincing detail, but the themes are universal. Not since "The Road" have I read a novel so stark, so gripping and in places, so beautiful. Yet the desperately hard way of life here is described with no illusions. Strangers are fair game - gang rape and the pillory are two possible fates, subsistence farming leaves the population on the brink of starvation, ravaged by disease and at the mercy of their manorial landowner in a society where class shouts louder than anything else and crimes, both real and perceived, are viciously and arbitrarily punished.

But there is beauty, too, particularly in Crace's detailed evocation of a landscape minutely known and cherished, the rhythms of nature and the consolations of love, community and celebration. All this is shattered when enclosure threatens the villagers' way of life, and things rapidly fall apart. Within a week, the community has collapsed. This book gives you a window into one of the least understood human tragedies in English history, the forced theft of common land which, some historians believed, dispossessed the common people and created a workforce for the Industrial Revolution. The story told here, though historic in particular, is happening to this day in many countries of the world.

However, this is not a political book, nor is it just the elegy for a lost pastoral idyll. It's also a fascinating study about fitting in, or rather not fitting in. Walter Thirske finds himself caught between two worlds - though he has lived among the villagers for over ten years he also has ties to the landowner and a level of education and insight that sets him apart in a deeply suspicious, isolated community under pressure. He finds himself emotionally involved and yet curiously detatched from the events unfolding around him, never quite able to stomach the moral compromises that would give him an escape route. It's one of the finest studies of loneliness I've ever read. In its evocation of a world where human beings might spend entire lifetimes without crossing their parish boundaries, and where affiliation to a group could spell the difference between life and death, this haunting story combines the strangeness of a science-fiction scenario with an historical narrative that still resonates today.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book, 23 April 2013
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harvest (Hardcover)
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I thought this was an excellent, engrossing and readable book. It has a depth and resonance which I found truly haunting and it has stayed with me very strongly since I finished it.

It is the story of a single week after harvest in a small English village. The exact period and place are unspecified, but the village is very isolated and has a subsistence agricultural economy which is threatened by enclosure for wool production. I think it is Crace's intention to leave us guessing a little in order to show that this could have happened at almost any time between about 1500 and 1800. The narration is by Walter Thirsk, a well-established resident but non-native of the village. We see through his experienced but slightly detached eyes what rural life was really like then: hard, precarious, sometimes brutal and sometimes very rewarding. There is a great deal of thoughtful insight about things like grief, the nature of loyalty and both the compassionate and responsible use of power and its uncaring, selfish abuse - which has some potent modern resonances. A lot happens as apparently small actions and their consequences grow to momentous events. I won't spoil the story by describing any of it, but it is brilliantly evoked in wonderful, atmospheric prose as events unfold showing how fragile even such a long-established community could be.

Walter is a decent, fallible protagonist and the story he tells is gripping, elegiac and haunting, told with a brilliantly balanced mixture of evocative detail and thoughtful, sometimes almost mystical prose. It is superbly done and I really do think this is an exceptionally good book. Very warmly recommended.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As the villagers throw tomatoes..., 13 Sep 2013
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MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harvest (Hardcover)
Harvest is a difficult book to judge. For the first two thirds, it is brilliant, stellar. It has a fantastic narrative voice and an atmosphere of cruelty through ignorance and neglect. But then it all unravels...

Jim Crace offers the reader no firm point in time or space. After a few paragraphs, the reader will assume the novel takes place in a village somewhere in central England, some time perhaps in the 17th or 18th century. The narrator, Walter Thirsk, is a mischievous man who is quick to judge or ridicule others whilst being blissfully unaware of his own shortcomings. Hence, he will watch the men with their fairy heads, high on magic mushrooms, set fire to a barn. But Walter will only involve himself when the damage has already been done. He will ridicule a visitor whose beard resembles pubic hair whilst merrily accompanying him as he surveys the village for redevelopment as sheep grazing. He will turn up to the harvest with an injured hand, lamenting his inability to join in as he tells others how they could do better.

The narrative voice drips with unreliability. It's a kind of cross between Notes on a Scandal and The Remains of the Day. This pompous, sanctimonious, meddlesome, indolent little man, for ever in need of a harsh dose of reality to be applied physically to his posterior. Walter hints of a previous life where he was freer, of higher station. He believes he has the special trust of Master Jordan, with whom he played as a child. But whilst Walter views this as some kind of equality - he deigns to work Master Jordan's fields through choice rather than compulsion - he would see that he was merely the servant's child. His station in life is also to serve.

Much is made of the isolation of the Village. Its residents have no knowledge of wider time and space; their boundaries are the fields they till, the seasons as they pass. There is no discernable law other than that dispensed by the manor. Three vagrants are caught in the act of claiming squatters rights and sent to the pillory. A pillory that has never been used before. A pillory that nobody seems to know quite how to use properly...

As the villagers throw tomatoes, they find themselves being manipulated by their masters. Strange things happen in the night. There are rumours of witchcraft.

So it is then a surprise when, after two thirds of the novel, all of the intrigue and tension is relieved. The close, oppressive atmosphere opens up and things become very pedestrian. No, the reader will cry, please don't do this to us Mr Crace! But sure enough, there follows a third of the novel composed almost entirely of filler material. It is as though Crace knew he had a masterpiece but ran out of time to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion before his much-heralded retirement. It's a shame; Harvest is still a good novel but with a more satisfactory denouement it could have been a modern classic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I never review books, 12 April 2014
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This review is from: Harvest (Kindle Edition)
I think it's a personal choice but I bought this book looking at reviews. I think this is the kind of book people think they should read to look good to book fans. It's boring. I thought there would be a whole witch craft story but it's fallen short. If you want to read about farming and a lonely man who uses beautiful adjectives then go ahead. If not, don't bother. Fair play to Jim Grace, I've never written a book, but I've read 2 a week for 30 years and I'll raise my hat to anyone who has written a book, but in my opinion I was hoping that the under whelming end would come soon.
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