Tuesday, March 5, 2013

HARVEST by Jim Crace

With prose so utterly beautiful that it is tantamount to poetry noted British author Jim Crace tells the story of a way of life.  The time is not the present but years ago yet the images and thoughts it provokes are very much today.

Harvest is a moral fable set in an uncertain year and place but in England when shared land was common.  Peasants worked the land for the owner and in return were allowed to eke out a meager living.  Walter Thirsk, a peasant farmer in a remote English village, is our narrator.  And a remarkably observant, well spoken one he is.  He doesn’t miss a beat in describing not only fellow villagers but flora and fauna as well.

It is the day after harvest and the work weary villagers anticipate celebration and feasting courtesy of the landowner.  But the clear sky is scarred by pillars of smoke, one from a fire that has damaged the master’s hay lofts and stable roofs, the other from beyond the ditches of their fields.  Thirsk explains what that smoke 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.”

As the villagers see it the two events are not a coincidence and they march on the newcomers with sticks and scythes. Yet, the late arrivals are not threats to their lives and land although perceived as such.  Another stranger has come to their village, a man the villagers call “Mr. Quill” because of the writing instrument he carries.  He busies himself making maps of the land apparently at the behest of the landowner.

In Crace’s skillful hands the arrival of all of the strangers intertwine irrevocably changing Walter’s life never to be the same again.

Harvest is an astounding story marked by its eloquent simplicity, rich in interpretation and not to be forgotten.

- Gail Cooke

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