As late summer steals in and the final pearls of barley are gleaned, a village comes under threat. Over the course of seven days, Walter Thirsk sees his hamlet unmade: the manor house set on fire, the harvest blackened, three new arrivals punished, and his neighbours accused of witchcraft. But something even darker is at the heart of his story, and he will be the only man left to tell it…
Through the eyes of a partial outsider, Walter Thirsk, Jim Crace captures the moment the feudal cropping way of life in England gives way to the enclosure of land to make way for sheep. (I date the story around 1400, but the year is never stated.) This is a lyrical and elegiac novel which manages to inject poetry into what must have the typical way of life for the vast majority of our ancestors. The plot compresses the dissolution of one estate into a single week, but plot isn't the point of this novel (something that clearly disappointed other reviewers of the audio version). The narrator's delivery is a bit ponderous, but this does suit the novel's reflective tone and keen observations of the texture of life on the land. "Harvest" puts poetry and heart into an aspect of history - the peasantry - that's usually ignored by historical novels.
What made the experience of listening to Harvest the most enjoyable?
This timeless narrative is very well written, with evocative descriptions of a rural English world that is long gone but deeply embedded in our cultural psyche. I enjoyed it while listening to this short book, but have been surprised how much it has stuck with me - I've often found myself thinking back on it.
What didn’t you like about John Keating’s performance?
The reading performance I found distractingly bad - possibly the worst I've experienced yet. I found his voice and some of his pronunciations (e.g. 'manny' instead of 'many') irritating, and whenever he did a voice for a character he seemed to put on the same exaggerated squeeky village simpleton voice. This is clearly a matter of taste though, as others have rated the performance highly.
Any additional comments?
I've read/listened to 3 of the 6 books on the 2013 Booker shortlist so far, and I think this would have been a worthy winner.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I love it when a novel takes me to a place or time that's new and unknown to me, and 'Harvest' certainly did that. The vague impressions I have of that period in British history, around 1800, when the aristocratic landowners were able to clear the common lands of the common people, in order to use the forests for the much more profitable rearing of sheep, were brought to wonderful, brutal life by the author.
What I like about this novel, though, is that there are no innocents. The village is ancient, but not venerable; it's not a bucolic paradise but a closeted little world with harsh justice and a stagnant gene pool. The indigents may be innocent of the crimes they're accused of, but they're unforgiving and vengeful in the end; and the landlord, and his people, are, for better or worse, responsible for preparing the way for the industrial revolution and our modern world ... So we're all found wanting in this tale. It's well narrated (though the narrator's idiosyncratic pronunciation of 'cloth' as 'clorth' was distracting) and I'll definitely be searching out more of Jim Crace's work.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
A truly great novel ruined by a bizarre performance. Keating's accent is convincing at first but British listeners will soon be sniggering every time he mentions "cloth" or "lasses" (which is pretty frequently). His slow, considered delivery would make a kind of sense for the character telling the story, but it becomes clear that this is more a result of of the reader concentrating carefully on doing his best English accent.
If I'm wrong and Keating is British, then
this is just plain weird.
This book deserves far far better.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
A very interesting story, great observations and lovely narrative. Very atmospheric.
HOWEVER the narration was shocking.....Very badly read. Please please find another narrator to do this book justice.
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
With warnings about the odd pronouciations. A shame, as the book is so original.
What other book might you compare Harvest to, and why?
Unlike anything I've read - I suppose the nearest might be Hardy's novels, with accounts of rural events in his time.
What three words best describe John Keating’s performance?
Clear, Not English?
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Any additional comments?
I felt that the reader sounded too young for the protagonist who was the narrator, but the most irritating thing was his peculiar pronounciation of words which cropped up a lot, like 'clorth' for cloth for instance, which for me upset the flow of the narrative. Would be interested to hear an historian's view of the book - would a village not have had a church?
Crace's first person narrative swings along as Walter Thirsk cowers his way through a week of upheaval, trying to ensure his own survival as all about him alters irrevocably
strangely unanchored in time or place this is a story about identity. A village abuses a small family of strangers and then guilt coupled with narrow mindedness allow the selfish unscrupulous gentry to conveniently destroy the village for their own gain.
lovely rural references and descriptions
Great narrative, poorly narrated. I found myself wondering if the reader had ever attempted to read out loud before. Eccentric handling of several words which became quite laughable. Great story though, so worth persevering.
I thought the narrator odd at first, then realised his intonation was perfect for the time in which the story is set. I really enjoyed this unusual book.
This book is a very interesting imagining of the period of land enclosures that formed our modern England. It is told from the point of view of a villager who is, himself, a "newcomer", as he watches his timeless way of life fall apart when some "newcomers" unwittingly act as catalysts for this change. It is about an England whose landscape is both unchanging and subject to brutal periods of change, as the Common land is enclosed for the more "efficient" farming methods of the 18th C. to come. The cast of characters are all as dimly
perceived as we perceive the villagers of a long gone era.
I really enjoyed the poetry of the writing, despite a bizarre naration. The reader mis-pronounces some common words in a really odd way, and seems to emphasise the wrong parts of sentences, pausing for effect in meaningless places. He is really irritating in his diction. I would not normally criticise someone's hard work, but there were several times when I was desperate for the book to end as a result. I think this does an excellently researched and beautifully written book a serious injustice. It is an important topic.