Philip Crace’s novel Harvest is set in 16C England. At a time when unenclosed commons were being converted into enclosures, owned by an individual. It was a sweeping agricultural change that was changing the character of the villages and a way of life familiar to villagers. Harvest is narrated by Walter Thirsk, an outsider to the village who was brought here when his master, Master Kent, married the daughter of the manor. Twelve years on, both the men are widowers, and within seven days there is a massive transformation in the village that they had begun to know well. With the arrival of strangers — a couple, including a woman with a magnetic personality, a chart maker, and the new owner of the manor who had come to stake his claim– there is utter confusion in the small community. In the space of seven days the village and its community is destroyed, the houses burnt to rubble and the people have fled.
It is probably no coincidence that there are very strong Biblical parallels in the story and in the imagery used. If Jim Crace had not made it clear in an interview ( http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/jim-crace-author-of-bookershortlisted-quarantine-im-leaving-craceland-8488415.html ) that he has never read any novels by Thomas Hardy, I could have sworn that the landscape he has created is very Hardy-esque. The form and structure is so reserved and sophisticated, at times you miss the violence and destruction that it is conveying — the accusations of sorcery and witchcraft, the disappearance of the women and the five-year-old Gleaning Queen, the unnecessary brutal slaughter of Master Kent’s horse, the burning of the manor, the near lynching of Master Jordan’s groom etc.
Harvest is on the ManBooker shortlist. The winner will be announced on 15 Oct 2013. My bet is that this novel will be a strong contender.
Jim Crace Harvest Picador, London, 2013. Pb. pp. 275 £ 12.99