The Western Wind Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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|Listening Length||10 hours and 56 minutes|
|Audible.com Release Date||March 01, 2018|
|Best Sellers Rank||
#260,686 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals)
#2,832 in Historical Mysteries (Audible Books & Originals)
#12,305 in Literary Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
#16,335 in Historical Mystery
Top reviews from the United States
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Samantha Harvey wouldn’t simply write a straightforward historical novel or mystery. She’s an unconventional (but accessible in her narrative immediacy) writer who reveals many layers of character while advancing her plot, as I learned in DEAR THIEF, a novel that centers on a woman writing to a childhood friend who stole her husband. Furthermore, THE WESTERN WIND is told backwards in time, from Shrove day 4 to Saturday, February 14th, day 1. This, to me, seals the contract of reader and writer, because the reader must actively attune and allow for the challenges that come with reverse telling. Like Reve, we want to know what happened. I experienced more than a few double takes. In the end, you will be mightily rewarded!
In 1491, the Renaissance has not reached everywhere; this is the late Middle Ages in Oakham, replete with religion and superstition embracing a monumental part of everyone’s lives. Minor transgressions are confessed to John Reve, and he informs us that he has the only confession box in England, placed there to allow people slightly more privacy, but crudely built and offers minimal concealment.
The priest is concerned about losing his flock, as many have been confessing privately to traveling friars. John is a complicated man, a priest with his own self-doubts and periodic crises of faith. To make matters worse, his superior, the unnamed dean, with “a nose for the nasty,” has traveled to the village to demand that the answer to Newman’s fate be concluded swiftly, offering to let whoever confesses to Reve (the dean thinks Newman was murdered) will be pardoned. The confessions that unfold are a large part of the novel.
John thoughtfully examines the tragedy of Newman, who had new ideas and a plan to build a bridge that would liberate the villagers from confinement and poverty. Some other residents were indebted to Newman, or had indeterminate ties to him. Additionally, Reve is praying for a western wind to blow away the evil spirits. He worries that the prevailing eastern winds would give Oakham more to tremble about and suffer.
Although told in first person, Reve is privy to most secrets, providing us with a window into everyone’s lives, an omniscience of sorts. However, there’s nobody but John to tell us about John.
As character development goes, John Reve is the most rich and compelling. Although he is the most known to us, he is paradoxically the most ambiguous. Contemplative, witty, flawed, and compassionate, he knows all the secrets and how best to help others. But whom can he confess to? Is he a reliable narrator? Time reversed will reveal the facts and the author’s brilliance of swiveling time to get to the truth.
And don’t worry that the prose will be medieval and stilted. Harvey evokes time and place in more atmospheric and indelible, visual ways, such as sights, smells, and sounds. Ball is played with a pig’s bladder and a drum out of goat hide. While the language is easily accessible, there is no question that you are in ancient times, with its textured period detail.
“My heart beat, and beat again, and I thought: one day it will beat and not beat again. Then what’s in store for me? And the light undid itself, separating out the grain of the stone into a dull, disparate yellowish-grey, the texture of cloth before fulling. I’d forgotten to eat and was hungry.”
The author is heralded as a stylist on a par with Virginia Woolf in the cover blurbs, but she's no such thing--this is a meandering, clunky, often clumsily-written book, which mires us in a mystery about a death in a medieval village, but then allows nothing much to happen for dozens of pages at a time. Characters are described in piles of detail, not deftly or purposefully, and the narrator's focus--our means of making sense of the sequence of events--wanders and lights on extraneous matters on nearly every page. We're promised a murder-mystery, but the mystery of it never seems to arrive.
Instead, we hear the minutiae of the village accumulate around us as the narrator, the village priest, hears confession, fends off the local dean, eats a goose, and ruminates on the weather, the local economy and the collapsed bridge, at which site the dead man disappeared without clear motivation.
There is no hook here, no narrative drive and little reason to keep slogging through, so that when the 'reward' of the narrative payoff finally comes, it's a matter of little concern beside the irritation we (or at least I) have felt to get to the end. Had I sat down and pushed through it in one sitting, I might feel differently, but this was a dull and pointless waste of time.
Top reviews from other countries
Although I am a fan of historical fiction and love the medieval period, this novel wasn't quite my cup of tea or should that be ale? As much as I found the central character, the priest, fascinating and was captivated by the descriptions of the beliefs expressed, I had problems with the way the author told the important four-days 'backwards', beginning with the Shrove Tuesday and finishing with the Saturday before that.
I felt this was the author 'showing off' her skills more than allowing reader to navigate the events for themselves. While I did have many 'so that's why he did this or that', moments, I found it both annoying and inconclusive. I have my own theory but was still left baffled.
So in some ways, a splendid novel; in others, a very frustrating read as nothing much 'happens' and it grew tedious and repetitious after a while, like all shaggy-dog stories. Funnily enough, a black dog features which muddies the waters both literally and figuratively.
It is written backwards. An interesting idea which simply does not work. As a result, the book is a muddle and doesn't flow well. The characters don't develop and the reader is frustrated.
A pity, because the book has potential