I have long been a fan of Jim Crace's writing, so I'm starting the Booker longlist marginally ahead of the game, having read Harvest earlier this year. In all his previous novels Crace has revealed himself to be a fan of the Dark Age and this novel is no exception, and here too the dark Age becomes a political metaphor for the age we live in. Harvest tells the story of the erosion of belonging, the dismantling of community, the autocratic ease of disenfranchisement: we reap what we sow – this is a tale of environmental profligacy of Biblical proportions.
The central narrator of Harvest is Walter Thirsk, a man who is himself an outsider, never quite present in the events he describes. The arrival of the mapmaker, Mr Quill is an early indicator of unease. He arrives to chart the landscape, parcel it, shape it, mark out its boundaries. Suddenly the boundaries are not natural but negotiable. Suddenly belonging becomes that bit more uncertain, that bit more contested. And with that uncertainty, Walter Thirsk's alliances are thrown into sharp relief, as though the starkness of the stubble-cut land has just revealed him in an unfamiliar way.
Community is important to Crace. It is one of the ways in which his character's inhabit their identities. The Village, a small enclosure of fewer than 60 homes, is never named, and yet is fully differentiated and authentic. We believe in the Village, we recognise it, it is almost our own. But the Village is a community in transition, and its characters all have their identities winnowed in the cropping that is the central event of the novel. It behoves us to be alert. To attend our own fields. The harvest, Crace suggests, takes place everywhere and nowhere. This is a novel which is both mythical and topical.
Crace's prose is extraordinary and mesmerising. His evocations of the English pastoral are nostalgically bucolic, giving the novel the timeless quality of a fable, something both familiar and urgent. Harvest is an elegantly structured novel and one which is deeply satisfying. If this doesn't make its way onto the shortlist, in my view the shortlist will be very much the poorer.
the copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele