Book Review: Harvest

Harvest-225x300From Goodreads: In effortless and tender prose, Jim Crace details the unraveling of a pastoral idyll in the wake of economic progress. His tale is timeless and unsettling, framed by a beautifully evoked world that will linger in your memory long after you finish reading.

But it wasn’t effortless prose.

As much as I wanted to like Jim Crace’s Harvest, a novel that is reported to be his last, I often found myself avoiding it.  Yes, the book’s prose was beautiful.  Yes, it was a tough and interesting premise.  Yes, there is no question that Jim Crace is a respected author who has written another novel that is being widely discussed across literary circles.  It just was not the book for me.

This story is told from the perspective of villager Walter Thirsk, and the entire narrative takes place over just 7 days.  Beginning with two plumes of smoke, Harvest slips the reader into an uncertain time of master and servant, villager and outsider, tradition and change. Walter Thirsk, a widower and the novel’s guide, shares his observations throughout the story and shares his misgivings about the shift that a farming village is facing from grain to sheep.  Change is never easy, and for the inhabitants of this village, fear of it pulses through their veins. This fear leads to everything from poor judgement to finger pointing, both of which smack of the potential to create an utter wasteland.  Clearly, when too much energy is used to resist change, the unintended result can be destruction rather than preservation. This parting message leaps from the latter pages of Harvest, which made the story’s lasting mark a sad one.

During the Bookermarks podcast, I noted that Harvest would be the perfect Literature assignment in High School.  Crace’s language deserves undivided attention, and the story provides multiple layers that can be peeled back for further examination.  Deeper meanings can be extracted from the simplest of Crace’s sentences, which is unquestionably the mark of intelligent prose.  I do not question the merit of Harvest as a literary accomplishment, nor do I wonder why it has its place on the 2013 Man Booker Shortlist.

Simply put, my trouble with Harvest was its pace.  While it was clear that every single word was chosen with great care, I found that the plot quickly became mired in its own language. The descriptions bogged down the emotion.  In other words, it just didn’t flow.  It wasn’t a book that I was anxious to pick up again, and while I will always appreciate beautiful writing, I also like to get lost in a story.  Harvest did not provide this escape. While I congratulate Jim Crace for a novel that this both poignant and complicated, it is not a novel that I will be picking up for a reread anytime soon.

3 Stars for Harvest.

This review was simultaneously published on Bookermarks.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Harvest

  1. Interesting reaction. I’m halfway through Harvest now. Maybe his high style does create a sort of emotional distance – too wound up in it’s own beauty to given an immediacy to the story?

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