“What starts with fire will end with fire, I’ve heard it said.”
And so starts and ends ‘Harvest’, Jim Crace’s latest novel (and supposedly his last, as he will be retiring from writing). The fire in ‘Harvest’ is not the kind that has sky reaching blazing flames. It reminded me more of dying embers, gently fizzling out.
During our book club discussion it became apparent that the book touches on a multitude of themes and subjects but it all seemed rather understated. It was as if Crace took on to paint this great epic scene but then delivered only a rough shadowy sketch rather claustrophobic in nature.
It’s a story of a small village which comes apart with a surprising speed following a chain of events initiated by the arrival of three strangers. The time and place of action are not spelled out but it could be a 15th or 16th century England. In the end, it doesn’t really matter because the story is more of a timeless allegory about change and modern ways. Its main character is that wretched community which finds out that, despite decades of history, its foundations are precarious.
Much like Barry Unsworth, Jim Crace is not much into drawing individual portraits of his characters, instead offering us a generic ‘peasant’ and a generic ‘landowner’. Only the narrator, Walter, has something resembling a personality and he suffers an internal squibble when he tries to figure out where he should place his loyalties (to say it was an internal battle would be an overstatement).
Even though I wouldn’t describe this book epic or ‘tour de force’, it has its undeniable charm. The language is beautiful; you can smell the soil and hear the trees; and it does make you lament the fact that things just won’t stay the same, the change will always come and destroy the old ways no matter how much you cry. And eventually the new will become the old and in due course will be lamented when something even newer comes along. I suppose it’s human nature to always oppose change. If you don’t believe me, just go to facebook and see how each time they introduce something new, half of the people scream ‘Bring the old facebook back’, as if completely unaware that the ‘old facebook’ they’re defending now is exactly that facebook they were opposing the last time. Ah, humans, creatures of habit, you’re so cute.