Harvest by Jim Crace (2013) 273 p.
Fitting that I finished this 2013 Booker-shortlisted novel the day the 2014 longlist was announced. Harvest is a fairly short and simple novel set in a rustic village in an unnamed part of England at some point in, probably, the 17th century – the time period also goes unmentioned, but several characters are still using longbows although the medieval age seems to be over, or at least passing. The peace of the village is interrupted by the smoke signals of newcomers camped at the edge of their land, and the escalating series of conflict and violence is only the harbinger of a much more devastating change which is about to be wrought on their land.
Crace has a decent writing style and a particularly good voice in this book; the narrator, Walter Thirsk, speaks not exactly in an historic cadence but not in a modern one either. The concept at the core of the novel – the earth, the harvest, the back-breaking yet honest world of agricultural labour – is tonally pitch perfect. You can smell the soil and feel the dirt on your hands. It’s a shame, then, that this solid writing supports an indifferent plot; a symbolic artifice which comes to a predictable conclusion.
I have no doubt that Harvest is an objectively good book, but it certainly didn’t reach the wonderful level I expect from a Booker-standard novel. (And maybe it’s my expectations that are at fault, because, really, very few short-listed novels or even winners reach the same heights as, say, Life of Pi or Disgrace.) Harvest didn’t exactly leave me cold, but neither did it warm me up.