Jim Crace’s ‘Harvest‘ has been hanging around on my bookshelves for a couple of years; it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2013. But every time I am in that delicious limbo, choosing between the end of one book and the start of another, it always seems to get passed over for something more engaging-looking. This time round I decided to give it a go and didn’t regret my decision. This was an interesting read, ostensibly with a very small focal point but actually taking in a wide scope.
We live in a time where the progress of technology threatens us; as more and more occupations become mechanised and humans are replaced by automatons, sometimes we mourn the passing of the ‘olden days’. Well Crace’s tale is set in those days, where the threat of advancement came in the form of sheep. Yes, those white, slightly stupid creatures that we rather take for granted were once a sign of change.
In the village where Walter Thirsk has lived for twelve years, the subsistence agriculture which supports the community is about to give way to wool production. But within the village itself, the inhabitants are busy bringing in the harvest, with its associated rituals and celebrations after a lot of hard work. Into the midst of this arrive three strangers, whose advent coincides with a destructive fire in the barns of the landowner, Master Kent. The visitors are blamed and the two men are imprisoned in the pillory for a week. It is over this week that the whole novel takes place, culminating in a series of events which leave the village decimated.
Ever since I have lived in a village myself, my awareness of the turning of the seasons has been more heightened. The changes in the fields, the landscape and wildlife around my home has given me a greater appreciation and admiration for Mother Nature and all her helpers. This interesting novel did make me consider our ties to the land and the way in which, for the majority of us, those bonds have probably been broken.