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Harvest
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56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2013
Harvest is a wicked and delightful read.

As is the case with many of Crace's story lines, it's a relatively simple one: The placid order of a remote, pre-industrial English village and the estate upon which it depends, is disrupted by a number of events that include three mysterious squatters who come into conflict with both the 60 people who call the village home, and the ruling authorities of the estate. The estate's precarious equilibrium is also threatened by a new "order" imposed by a new owner, whose entrance is seemingly a result of history and economic development, and by happenstance.

Thematically, there's much of the pagan and reverence for mother earth in this tome.

The story unfolds through the eyes of Walter Thirsk, who is an interloper through the story. He has a modern appeal in his ironic perspective and expressions, while his perspective is deeply rooted in the timeless relationship of man and nature.

I don't want to reveal too much of how all this unfolds for fear of ruining the reading experience. But there are about as many turns and twists in the narrative as can be bundled into a 208-page narrative.

For those who relish the reward of reading a well-crafted mystery/thriller, Harvest will yield bountiful results. Crace is one of a few top-drawer stylists on the isle of England. And, I find Harvest consistent with other wonderful books he has written.

For those of us who prefer some thought - given the characters and the action what are the possibilities going forward - Crace weaves that into the text effortlessly, and invisibly for those who don't want to clutter up their reading experience with too much thinking.

One of the many things I enjoy about Crace's work is that he encourages the reader to explore some basic and fundamental questions about our world and how we perceive it. Dare we call them philosophical, or even religious questions? For instance, I for one regard being dead differently as a result of having read his Being Dead.

Harvest is a transformational allegory, not unlike the better works of fellow English stylists Ian McEwan, and Barry Unsworth. By the end of the story, everything is changed, but nothing is changed. A blank portrait of the manor and village serves as a metaphor at both the beginning and end of the tale.

What is revealed at the end, when all is said and done (ha, ha), is what underlies the existence of all the characters and their social order build on the underlying foundation that is beyond words, if that makes any sense.

It's worth noting that Mother Earth - in all of her mythical qualities - may reasonably be considered the main character. And, maybe, a woman trespassing on the village's order is a manifestation of Mother Earth, or maybe she's a witch, or maybe she's both. Only the reader will know with any degree of certainty, if certainty is possible.

Crace's description of the low land of the estate, known among the locals as the Turd and Turf, is to die for. Through Thirsk's eyes we see the village's natural latrine through a vision bawdy in the Canterbury tradition, but also he reveals the juxtaposed beauty of the plants that grow in the marshland. Harvest' evocation of the barley fields and other elements of the landscape are quite touching as well.

Harvest not only conjures up Canterbury tales, but also biblical images, as one would expect from Crace, who probably best can be described as a spiritual atheist. For, in the end, this is a story about the garden, its original inhabitants, how they went wrong, and how their sons and daughters have been repeating essentially the same mistakes ever since, always starting from the same blank slate.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2013
The novel opens with mystery and intrigue. We get drawn in as a village collectively remains silent on a moral question of dire circumstances. Things only go downhill from that point, as the life they are accustomed to morphs into something else entirely. We watch as a whole community loses their grip on morality and even sanity at the same time they lose everything else. And at one point, it seems as though the novel is building toward something grand, something amazing, something cataclysmic. And yet, it fails to deliver. After about the halfway point, the story slumps, offering nothing else noteworthy; alluding to the possibility of a major reveal or perhaps a strong/shocking twist but never delving any further than surface level. Indeed, we get nothing in the conclusion. The story painfully limps along during the last 1/3 or so, and then it just -simply- ends, leaving us with a lot of unanswered questions and a protagonist who finally makes the choice he should have made long before. Perhaps it was a plot device to add bulk? Or maybe it was an opportunity to provide more insight into the mind of the main character as justification for his actions. Either way, I'd say it was ill-advised. I certainly felt disappointed in the anti-climactic nature of this novel.

This book is also weighed down by dense though alluring prose sprinkled with very little dialogue. As such, it seems to stretch on for much longer than it's slim binding would suggest. I can't say it's an easy read but it is definitely gorgeous.

Cautiously recommended for lovers of the Literary genre, only, as I don't see how anyone else would really enjoy this book.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on April 23, 2013
This novel is narrated by Walter Thirsk, a farmer on the Jordan Estate somewhere in England. The hamlet where he lives is a day's walk from the nearest church or inn and there are few visitors. The lord of the manor, Master Kent, is kindly. He and Walter were childhood friends and Walter worked as his servant before marrying a local woman and taking up farming. The small village has no name and we are not told the time or specific location, but we are in sixteenth century England as the commons are being enclosed and an ancient way of life is coming to an end.

The master's cousin, who has title to the lands, is planning to turn the estate over to sheep farming. From Henry VIII on, the Tudors set up a regime of tariff protection and subsidies to build the wool industry. It is the sort of economic policy that gives modern free trade advocates apoplexy, but it laid the foundation for Britain's wealth over the next few centuries, albeit at a human cost.

The novel opens the day after the harvest. Already there are signs of the old settled ways being disturbed. Someone has set fire to the master's stables, a man engaged by the master is mapping the village, and some outsiders have arrived and set up residence. The latter are not welcome - the harvest is meagre enough and the local population has been dwindling because there are too many mouths to feed.

The culprits who set the fire are known, except to the master, but the villagers seek to shift the blame to the newcomers. The villagers are also fearful and distrustful of the strange man who is mapping the land and they wonder what he is about. The annual cycle that is just ending - sowing, harvest, gleaning, celebration - has been never-ending for those born and bred here but Walter understands that the old seasonal calendar is coming to an end and that the future will never be the same.

The newcomers are punished for the fire but they will seek revenge for the wrongs done to them. The master's cousin arrives with a gang of men and it is clear that radical changes are on the horizon. They take an aggressive stance towards the villagers which leads to confrontation, but how effective can this be in the face of a power most of the villagers cannot comprehend?

Walter's wife died and so he is no longer wedded to this place - in both senses of the term. He begins to consider ways out. Could he go into service with the peculiar man doing the mapping, resume his role as servant to Master Kent, or should he try his chances elsewhere? These questions begin to occupy much of his thoughts.

More misfortune and violence haunt the village and each household has to make a decision about its future. The ruminations that trouble Walter begin to take hold of everyone. Can the old ways survive or will the village be overwhelmed? The period in which this novel is set saw some of the most profound changes in rural life in England and the human dimension of these changes is explored in this engrossing and atmospheric story.

Those with wealth and power do not see the village or its traditions in terms of the social bonds, the seasonal character of the land or the culture that understands and celebrates the world in which it lives. To men with money the village is just a set of material assets, including people, that need to be re-configured in a way that will increase the wealth of a few. As in any age, the rich are ever willing to use threats and violence to get their way. Once you are a slave to greed, seeing people and the world around you as things to be manipulated, then cruelty and force become common sense.

The kindly master is seen as weak by his cousin but the villagers wait to see if he will defend their livelihoods or fall into line with the new regime. It will be a test of where his loyalties lie.

The descriptions of a long lost rural life, the details of the natural world and the relationships between the villagers are all depicted in rich and eloquent prose. You are quickly drawn into the world that Jim Crace creates and I found the story absorbing. With a small cast in a very small settlement Crace has examined the impact of a momentous period in English history that has echoes even in our modern age. Jim Crace is a prolific author but this is the first novel of his that I have read. I will now be seeking out the others, for this is a great author.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2014
The plot is low key but the prose is compelling and beautiful. It draws the reader into the landscape - rural pre-industrial England - and into the mind of the protagonist - a somewhat educated, town-bred individual transplanted to the countryside. I was hooked from the first paragraph. I couldn't put the book down and when I did, I couldn't get it out of my mind. This is a book that could be read twice in the same week-end and be as enjoyable the second time around as the first.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2013
When I started this book I took a break after about a quarter of the way through because it was slow and wasn't sure if I wanted to read it. A few days later I decided to go back to it and got hooked. The development of the characters and seeing into the mind of the main one was intriguing and caught my curiosity.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2013
The Driven Off the Land genre in fiction contains many examples including Zola's "La Terre" and Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." Crace's take on the topic was off to an interesting start but then fizzled, leaving me with a sense that, compared to Zola and Steinbeck, Mr. Crace felt no passion for his subject or his characters. Consequently I was left with the feeling that in this book there's no there there.

The quote from the New York Times Book Review "Harvest calls to mind J. M. Coetzee's finest and most allegorical novel, Waiting for the Barbarians" has me wondering if the NYT reviewer had actually read "Waiting for the Barbarians"
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2013
"Just for today, he's walking on a field in heaven rather than on earth, he's plowing up the lands of time, marking out the ridges and the furrows of a trying life."

This is a writer of the first water; the book is a work of genius -- but unfortunately not finished. Possibly Crane was unable to finish, suffering from writers' block or some other form of depression. In an interview with The Guardian he said this would be his last novel, but another reviewer noted that Crane had declared the same thing before and come back to write again.

The sacramental plowing paragraph appears close to the end of the book and is the high water mark of what was a stunningly good novel up to that point. It falls off badly after that, becoming like a cheap gothic horror tale. The ending is unsatisfying and depressing, as if the writer had simply walked away from his story.

5 stars for writing, 1 star for plotting and split the difference; 3 stars is all I can give, unfortunately. The book is flawed and should never have been published in its present form.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2013
This is a beautifully written book about what is, to me, an interesting topic:the time period, in England, when farmers were being displaced from their land to make way for the raising of sheep. Far from the typical historical account, this book really gets you into the head of the narrator and provides an apparently authentic glimpse of the attitudes of various social classes towards one another. It is a far from happy tale, with mystery and tragedy aplenty. In the end, though, you are left with some sense of satisfaction and,certainly, a better understanding of social upheaval of the time. Above all, however, I value this book for its really outstanding literary quality.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2013
I didn't love this like some of the other reviewers did. This is the story of economic change coming to a remote, pre-industrial village, in the form of a new "lord of the manor" with different ideas about how to make the most effective use of the land. There are themes of insiders versus outsiders, economic change and how it displaces individuals, and the individual versus the collective. It's beautifully written, and really manages to capture the rhythm and mindset of the pre-industrial era. But despite the fact that it's not very long, it seemed to drag for me, and I didn't really find myself identifying strongly enough with any of the characters to care deeply about what happened to them, despite some horrific injustice in the treatment of some of them. It was hard for me to get all the way through this, despite the beauty of the prose.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2013
Really surprising that it did not win the Man Booker, given its effortless prose and fine subtle story telling - one of Crace's best books.
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