Summary and book reviews of Harvest by Jim Crace

Harvest

By Jim Crace

Harvest
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2013,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2013,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

A remote English village wakes on the morning after harvest, looking forward to enjoying a hard-earned day of rest and feasting. But two mysterious columns of smoke mar the sky, raising alarm and suspicion.

The first column of smoke comes from the edge of the village land, sent as a signal by newcomers to announce their presence as per regional custom. The second smoke column is even more troubling: it comes from a blaze set in Master Kent's stables. Walter Thirsk, a relative outsider in the village, casts his eye on three local boys and blames their careless tomfoolery. The rest of the villagers, though, close ranks against the strangers rather than accuse one of their own. Two men and a woman are apprehended; their heads are shaved to mark their criminality; and the men are thrown into the stocks for a week. Justice has been served. Or has it?

Meanwhile, another newcomer has been spotted in the village sporting the finer clothes and fashionable beard of a townsman. Mr. Quill, as the villagers name him, observes them closely and takes careful notes about their land, apparently at Master Kent's behest. It is his presence more than any other that will threaten the village's entire way of life.

In effortless, expertly crafted prose, Jim Crace details the unraveling of bucolic life in the face of economic progress. His tale is timeless and unsettling, evoking a richly textured world you will remember long after you finish reading.

1

Two twists of smoke at a time of year too warm for cottage fires surprise us at first light, or they at least surprise those of us who've not been up to mischief in the dark. Our land is topped and tailed with flames. Beyond the frontier ditches of our fields and in the shelter of our woods, on common ground, where yesterday there wasn't anyone who could give rise to smoke, some newcomers, by the luster of an obliging reapers' moon, have put up their hut— four rough and ready walls, a bit of roof— and lit the more outlying of these fires. Their fire is damp. They will have thrown on wet greenery in order to procure the blackest plume, and thereby not be missed by us. It rises in a column that hardly bends or thins until it clears the canopies. It says, New neighbors have arrived; they've built a place; they've laid a hearth; they know the custom and the law. This first smoke has given them the right to stay. We'll see.

But it is the second ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Jim Crace's writing is sensual with an impressionistic feel, in the sense that cause and effect are often seen through a prism and you get a full picture of the story only when you stand back and take it all in its entirety. We know the time period is significant, a little research revealing the disastrous effects resulting from the virtual overnight growth of the wool trade. The enclosure of formerly common land causes many to go hungry, and the gulf between rich and poor grows ever wider, inviting economic disaster. But in Harvest, none of this is expressly said. Crace merely portrays the feelings, the vertiginous madness of a society coming apart at the seams which, as he explained to me, is a story that is still being repeated today - with small farmers all over the world being forced from their land.   (Reviewed by Lisa Guidarini).

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Media Reviews
Irish Times

Crace, an original and a literary stylist, with, usually, something remarkable to say, says it here in a haunting work of sudden violence and vengeance ... Few novels as fine or as complex in their apparent simplicity will be published this, or indeed any, year.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Harvest is as finely written as it is tautly structured. Pungently flavoured with archaic words, its language is exhilaratingly exact, sometimes poetic and sometimes stark. Magnificently resurrecting a pivotal moment in our history about which it is deeply knowledgeable, this simultaneously elegiac and unillusioned novel is an achievement worthy to stand alongside those of Crace’s great fictional ­influence, William Golding.

Booklist

This is a spare, disquieting, unique, and ultimately haunting and memorable little novel. Its limited accessibility may restrict its audience, but followers of literary fiction will be reading and talking about it.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Crace's signature measured delivery and deliberate focus create unforgettably poetic passages that quiver with beauty. An electrifying return to form.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Rarely does language so plainspoken and elemental tell a story so richly open to interpretation on so many different levels...With economy and grace, the award-winning Crace gives his work a simplicity and symmetry that belie the disturbances beneath the consciousness of its narrator...Crace continues to occupy a singular place in contemporary literature.

Library Journal

Starred Review. A quietly breathtaking work revealing how fate plays with us as we play with fate; highly recommended.

New Statesman

The most seductive and enthralling of Crace’s novels.

The Wall Street Journal

[Harvest] is intellectually and morally engaging while also being exciting to read ... Mr. Crace's imagery brilliantly suggests the loamy, lyric glories of rustic English language and life ... [he] devotes his considerable talents to telling an affecting tale of a bound world and its simple people as they head toward a tragic and inexorable breakdown.

The Boston Globe

Surreptitiously thought-provoking...Harvest attains a haunting and almost subversive quality.

The Los Angeles Times

As with Crace's other novels, Harvest is deftly written, in language — formal, slightly archaic even — that reflects the setting it describes. It's also tightly plotted.

The New York Times Book Review

Glorious. Crace writes with a particular, haunting empathy for the displaced ... His plots may be epic, but his sentences carry a sensual charge ... In his compassionate curiosity and his instincts for insurgent uncertainty, Crace surely ranks among our greatest novelists of radical upheaval, a perfect fit for our unstable, unforgiving age.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

In language beautiful and painstakingly precise, Jim Crace circumscribes the story as neatly as a fairy tale ... Entirely absorbing.

Reader Reviews
Diane S.

Harvest
Had a very hard time rating this book. The writing is outstanding, time and place one can imagine what living here is like. and an unreliable narrator. The tone is foreboding, a little like children of the corn, but much better prose. My problem is ...   Read More

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BookBrowse Interview with Jim Crace

Jim Crace Harvest seems to be set in an era when English society is evolving from use of land to grow crops to enclosed pastures for animals. What about this specific time period did you find compelling as a setting for your novel? Could it have been set in any other time and place?
The time period isn't all that specific, in fact. I wasn't trying to write a novel that was medieval or Tudor or Jacobean. If the novel has a "setting" at all then it's Shakespeare's England. So it's prose fiction based on stage fiction. But, if the exact time and location of the story are not important to me, the subject matters are. And the subject matters are timeless. Small farmers all over the world are still being forced from their land, edged out by timber ...

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