Genre: Contemporary, literary fiction, historical
Publication date: 14th February 2013 by Picador
Format: Paperback copy I purchased used.
As late summer steals in and the final pearls of barley are gleaned, a village comes under threat. A trio of outsiders – two men and a dangerously magnetic woman – arrives on the woodland borders and puts up a make-shift camp. That same night, the local manor house is set on fire.
Over the course of seven days, Walter Thirsk sees his hamlet unmade: the harvest blackened by smoke and fear, the new arrivals cruelly punished, and his neighbours held captive on suspicion of witchcraft. But something even darker is at the heart of his story, and he will be the only man left to tell it…
I really can’t make my mind up about this book, there were aspects that I absolutely loved, and others that just pulled it down for me.
The writing is wonderful in this book, it is lyrical, poetic, and sounds iambic throughout much of the novel. It rolls off the tongue if read aloud, and flows so beautifully when read silently. It alone makes me want to read more by Jim Crace.
However, the plot was a bit anti-climatic and – dare I say it – dull, for my liking. It’s not that things don’t happen, because they do, but there was so little drama where it felt as though there should have been, and unnecessary drama elsewhere. It’s incredibly violent in places, which does make sense and helps to build up an idea of the community and the mentality that the people had toward anyone who may interfere with their way of living, but at times I felt it a bit much and not really necessary.
The ending too, was fairly predictable, though it is likely that it was a definite choice made by the author. I had hoped for something a bit more though.
I’m not usually a historical fiction kind of person, but I did enjoy this more than I expected. It wasn’t a favourite by any means, but I think the fact that it is set in history but is not in a specific time (in just occurs in the period of enclosure – which happened over a few hundred years) made it easier to get into and read – there are no set characters from history that I had to puzzle over and admit I’d never heard of. It’s highly relevant to the present, and is, in fact, more about the present than the past in many ways. The same things that occur in the book are happening in other countries across the globe, and many of the sentiments expressed are heard commonly in conversations every day. Whilst this was written before Brexit really became a ‘thing’, it resonates a lot with what is happening in the UK at this moment in time, which definitely made it more readable for me.
Overall, I did enjoy this book, though it’s not a favourite. There are interesting images throughout, and I loved how they were subtly included – the story of Cain and Abel was so interesting as it was so easy to miss but it was still there (I have no interest in the Bible itself, but the way Jim Crace included it was extremely clever). If you like poetic writing, this is definitely a good choice, and it is worth a read, though I’d say the description given by Goodreads (above – it is also what is on the back cover of my copy) is overdramatic – it’s nowhere near as dramatic as it is made out to sound!
Rating: 3.5 / 5 🌟