Harvest by Jim Crace

I can’t really make my mind up about whether I liked this book or not. I picked it out from an otherwise disappointing selection at my local library and it definitely showed promise at first. It tells the story of  a tiny rural village several hundred years ago and how the community is destroyed by several dramatic events, starting with a fire in the manor stables and the appearance of three strangers on the edge of the village lands. It certainly seems as though there will be drama and intrigue after such a beginning but I found that rather than intensifying, the mystery surrounding the turmoil, while not being solved, seems to lose its momentum.

Harvest

Barring a couple of individuals, including the novel’s narrator, the people of the village have lived there for generations and have almost no connection to other clusters of civilisation. This setting, so distant from the modern world of travel and communication we live in, and the rhythmic, poetic prose (especially of the opening chapter) make the novel seem almost mythical; altogether the novel seems from a forgotten time and I think because of this, a sense of reality seems missing from the characters and the plot throughout the novel.

To slightly contradict myself, the novel exhibits a whole spectrum of human emotions and impulses: sadness and loss, greed, love, lust, anger and frustration, guilt, empathy, loyalty and something akin to pack mentality when events in the novel turn to violence. In this way the secluded way of life of the villagers aids the power of Crace’s storytelling; the simplicity of their lives leaves room for Crace to examine primal human feelings and responses. Removed from the complications of calculated thought, the characters act instinctively and spontaneously. However, while this is certainly merit-worthy, the simplicity also works against Crace’s characters as I felt detached from their world and never really got into the story.

Detail of a harvesting scene circa 1577 from Holinshed’s Chronicles

In one review of the book that I read, it likened the novel to William Goulding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’; there are definitely certain echoes of Goulding in ‘Harvest’ but I felt that it was lacking the impact of Goulding’s work. Despite the violence and apocalyptic fire, I was disappointed by the ending of the novel, and I think it falls short of the climatic horror of ‘Lord of the Flies’.

I think the novel is well written and it is not lacking in substance but it still failed to grip me. Somehow its pace is too leisurely and it lacked the ability to provoke curiosity, excitement or feelings of empathy with its characters. I quite enjoyed reading it but my general feeling towards it is a bit ‘meh’. I don’t think I would recommend.

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