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.
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).
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.
In language beautiful and painstakingly precise, Jim Crace circumscribes the story as neatly as a fairy tale ... Entirely absorbing.
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.
Starred Review. Crace's signature measured delivery and deliberate focus create unforgettably poetic passages that quiver with beauty. An electrifying return to form.
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.
Starred Review. A quietly breathtaking work revealing how fate plays with us as we play with fate; highly recommended.
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.
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.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by 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
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 sharks or soy barons or coffee magnates or housing developers. And those farmers may well end up as refugees...
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