Saturday, 5 April 2014

Harvest by Jim Crace

This is a book I read for my book club. We meet once a month in a nice restaurant in Brussels called 'Carpe Diem' to discuss a chosen book, in this case Harvest by Jim Crace. Here a summary: It is the end of the summer, the end of the barley harvest and the villagers are preparing a feast to celebrate the harvest. Three outsiders, two men and a mysterious woman arrive on the woodland borders and put up a camp. The same night, the local manor house is set on fire and the outsiders are blamed, although the village people know that some of the villagers themselves did it. The men are punished and the woman disappears. The present owner to the manor has hired a land surveyor to draw a map of the land. It is hinted that there will be a change from farming barley to keeping sheep. Then the new owner (a relative of the present one) arrives from the city with his men and creates a turmoil in the regulated village life. Three women are accused of witch craft. The safe and regulated life of the village is hereby broken. The events set in motion will leave the village deserted in one week.

We had various views about this book, half of us liked it, the other half thought it was ok. It is beautifully written. The descriptions of the nature, the farming, the village and the actions of the people are no less than poetic, but sometimes lingering on too long. I found the characters quite illusive and could not get a grip on any of them. The most appealing one was Mr Quill, the map painter who I felt was the only one with a little bit of substance in him. All the others were very vague. I had difficulties deciding in which time the story took place. This could be the problem with non-British readers who are not aware of the times described.

It takes place during Tudor times and the Enclosure Act which changed the ownership of land in England. I think you can understand the book more if you know about this, which I didn't. Jim Crace himself has said though, that it is not a 'Tudor novel' but could take place anywhere, anytime. The story is not really much of a story and could have been told on much lesser pages. However, this book has to be seen as a symbolic story. It can refer to many things that happens today, how people act, especially when your life stile is threatened, how scared you are of people different from yourself.

This is a very symbolic book and I think it has to be seen as such. I loved the poetic language, but did not think too much of the story. However, having given it some days after finishing it, the book lingers with me so it certainly has something to give. It is worth a read.

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