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23 of 25 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 17 months ago by Sally Zigmond

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46 of 54 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 17 months ago by wolf


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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Everything changes and yet nothing changes., 30 Mar 2013
By 
Sally 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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16 of 18 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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8 of 9 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So glad I had to read this book for Book Group., 22 July 2014
This review is from: Harvest (Paperback)
I was given the task of presenting this to my Book Group and am I glad!. Read Quarantine with great interest but fell by the wayside with 'Being Dead' so was quite anxious about 'Harvest'. All the action takes place in 7 days in an unnamed village at some uncertain point in time.Told in the first person by a man who even after 12 years is still an outsider ,'Harvest' chronicles the disintegration of a way of life that had been unchanged for generations. A new Lord of the Manor and the Act of Enclosure together combine with unwelcome visitors to bring chaos to the well ordered and traditional life of the village. The story is wonderfully spun and even at the simplest level quite absorbing. However being a story by Jim Crace it is only right to look for allegories about the human condition and these may be suggested or dismissed. Is it coincidence that man manages to destroy his world in 7 days? Who are the strangers whose arrival is a catalyst for the unfolding events? Is this a battle of power over the powerless.? Etc. However the one predominant aspect of the book is the fantastic writing Crace has given us. His evocations of the countryside and all the wonderful descriptions of nature are just sublime. This is as near to poetry as prose may get. It is quite gorgeous. Sadly Crace has indicated that this will be his last novel. I do hope this means that he is not laying down his pen but turning his mind to other forms of writing. We need to keep hearing his music.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All ends at Turd and Turf, 5 Aug 2014
This review is from: Harvest (Paperback)
In some ways this is a simple story about the arrival of strangers in a remote rural area at the time of the barley harvest. Yet the protagonist (Walter Thirsk) is also a relative newcomer still grieving his dead wife, and can observe the events with some detachment. The strangers comprise so-called Mr Quill who is surveying the land for Master Kent and a family group of three who arrive and set up their camp at the beginning of the book.
Yet really the danger comes from another stranger, Master Jordan, who has managed to usurp Master Kent but the villagers are unable to distinguish friend from foe and set upon the family group with disastrous consequences.
What I liked about this book was the detail of the rural life which made the reader aware of the isolation and lawlessness of some rural areas and how the lurking dangers of fire, injury or random justice could ruin a man's life forever.
The characters are all drawn well and the plot moves along a pace beyond the wit of the villagers - yet there are also themes of loneliness and grief (Thirsk and Kent), bravery (Mr Quill) and fear (pretty much everyone).
It was almost a five star for me.
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46 of 54 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promised So Much - Failed to Deliver, 5 April 2013
By 
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eerie genius, 30 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Harvest (Kindle Edition)
Harvest is an excellent read. It held me from page one and the whole sense of a peculiar world and micro-culture was at times quite eerie! I liked the first person narrative, seeing the world through Walter's eyes and how the story gradually revealed its twists and turns. On the one hand I felt uplifted by the sense that there is always a new beginning. Nevertheless it was a pretty chilling tale. The themes are dark, revealing a quagmire of tension and betrayal under the picturesque veneer of village life. The author's thickly descriptive and evocative prose portrays such oppositional aspects of the landscape in the swamp and the barley field which are excellent metaphors for the social world in which he negotiates his being. Life and security are fragile in this weirdly timeless environment. While the whole fabric is shifting from subsistence to cash crop, a whole community disintegrates in a rapid sequence of disturbing events. Yet it is also about redemption, moving on, rising from the ashes. This is I think a work of eerie genius, reminding us how life can change very dramatically in a short time, how people can become unrecognisable. The historical period was also intriguing, as well as the fact that the reader had to figure it out as the book progressed. Brilliant book.
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42 of 50 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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5.0 out of 5 stars An unique writer at the top of his form, 25 Aug 2014
By 
Dr R (Norwich, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Harvest (Paperback)
Jim Crace has a very idiosyncratic voice amongst contemporary British writers. Harvest, shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize, is set in an unnamed English village in, I should guess from its concern with the transformation of village land from crops to sheep-rearing, the 16th-17th century.

The village is isolated with almost all the inhabitants having lived there all their lives and their families’ generations before them [‘We do not dare to say that we are beyond the Kingdom of God. But we do not press too closely to His bosom; rather, we are at His fingertips.’]. The exceptions are the narrator, Walter Thirsk, brought to the village by Master Kent when he moved to the mansion following his marriage to its heiress. At first, Walter served Kent, living in the mansion, but then married a local. However, in the twelve years that he has lived there Walter has remained an outsider [the villagers are blond through generations of intermarriage, Walter is dark and from the city], the true extent of which gradually becomes apparent.

A group of dispossessed strangers, two men and a woman, attempt to move within the village borders, ‘They know the custom and the law. This first smoke has given them the right to stay. We'll see.’ They are repulsed and shortly thereafter the master’s dovecote and stables are set ablaze. Whilst villagers have a motive, the doves compete for the villagers’ seed, it is the strangers who are challenged, convicted and the two men sentenced to be pilloried for a week and all to have their heads shorn.

In seeking to save the stables, Walter burns his hand badly and is unable to join the other villagers in the fields. He is asked to accompany the crippled chart-maker, Mr Quill, who has the job of recording the village – alone amongst the villagers, Walter suspects that this will not be to their advantage. They explore the boneyard and latrine area, ‘Turd and Turf’, which Quill names ‘The Blossom Marsh’ despite its obvious malodours.

Walter’s suspicion is confirmed when the Master’s cousin, Edmund Jordan, who holds the superior claim to the Manor and its lands, arrives with a ruthless plan to replace the traditional subsistence agriculture by wool production and weaving. The beneficiaries, operating under the banner of ‘Profit, Progress, Enterprise’, will be the powerful and not all the villagers will be needed to deal with the sheep and wool.

The story takes place over 7 days and nights, starting with the end of the harvest [‘There is a silent ripeness to the air, so mellow and sappy that we want to breathe it shallowly, to sip it richly like a cordial. No one who knows the busy, kindly, scented universe of crops and the unerring traces of its calendars could mistake this morning’s aromatic peace and quiet for anything but Gleaning Day.’]. Crace contrasts the paternal but ineffectual Master with Jordan who, surrounded by his enforcers, is determined to implement his agrarian revolution.

There are particularly evocative descriptions of Walter’s impressions on first arriving in the village, of not seeing his face in a mirror or reflected in the ponds now choked by duckweed, of working in the drenching rain and of his ambivalence towards the two pilloried strangers. However, his main attention and that of the villagers is directed towards the woman, Mrs Beldam, following a violent act and this leads to Jordan strengthening his position over the Master by raising the spectre of witchcraft, which is probably the best indicator of the period.

The village is sealed from the outside, evident only in the arrival of Walter and the Master, Quill and, later, Jordan and his enforcers. There is a great deal of scholarship about village customs, agricultural practices and the lives of the different strata of this closed society. However, it is always presented in the context of the village, its characters and the story. If the reader accepts the opportunity offered by the author, today’s stress and pace of life is slowed to one determined by the weather.

The book opens and closes with fires and the consequences of eating ‘fairy-cap’ mushrooms. In between, Walter can barely decide on any course of action, most importantly to flee or to stay. This sapped some of the energy from the book. Nevertheless, the writing is of such a high standard that I was enthralled to the final lines where Walter’s philosophy is slightly hammered home.

William Golding’s ‘The Spire’ came to mind when I read this book since a cross and an unfinished, indeed not started, church lie at its, and the village’s centre.
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21 of 25 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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