If there is a book in need of an award, Jim Crace’s Harvest is it.
A simple story well told may be the hardest to write as it is overly dependent upon prose. As descriptive of the vicissitude of land and human nature, the language of Harvest is more Elizabethan in cadence, than the likely Tudor period of the plot. It is a time of displacemnt, not unlike our present time and the industrial revolution. Here man is foreclosed by animal rather than machine. Economy of scale is still a measure of poverty. The tale is told in a pocket of English countryside, the province of a minor master of a manor almost indistinguishable from its subsistence tenant farmers. Historically, but not evident in the novel, the displacement results in England’s poor laws, as vagabonds in numbers can be socially upsetting. As Mr. Crace writes “Dissent is not measured it is weighed”.
The book cover was a curiousity to me and nearly had me ignore it. It boldly, in large font, displayed the author’s name. Secondarily, in lower case at the bottom of the cover, the title of the book appears. It seemed a bit promotional to me. I wondered if his publisher was trying to live off Mr. Crace’s substantial literary heroics over a decade earlier. In 1997 his novel “Quarantine” was named Whitbread Novel of the Year and short listed for the Booker Prize. Testimonials on the back cover from John Updike for “Quarantine” and from John Banville for “Being Dead” were very positive. There were none for Harvest. As the book was just published I have no doubt they will come. I would not be surprised to see it at least short listed for the Booker Prize. I will be adding “Quarantine” to my reading list.
Needless to say, read Harvest.