CRACE’S HAUNTING FABLE
Jim Crace’s starkly beautiful new novel, Harvest, takes place in a small, tradition-bound village in an era that feels medieval. The planting and harvesting of barley has always been central to the community’s existence. No one can remember a time when things were different. But village life is forever altered when three strangers appear and a fire breaks out on the property of Master Kent, whose family owns the land the villagers farm. These chilling events are recounted by a man named Walter Thirsk, who came to the village 12 years ago and knows how it feels to be a stranger there. Thirsk is an articulate and perceptive narrator, and his plainspoken account of the fear and upheaval that sweep through the community after the fire is unforgettable. Crace’s book is parable-like in its demonstration of what can happen when a people too-long isolated are overcome by suspicion and distrust. It’s no surprise that this deeply affecting novel was recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
TRAPPED BY THE PAST
Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller is a complex, moving novel about two Holocaust survivors and the ways in which their stories change one woman’s life. Sage Singer, a 25-year-old bakery employee in Westerbrook, New Hampshire, is coming to grips with the death of her mother. At her grief-counseling group, she befriends 95-year-old widower Josef Weber. As they grow closer, Josef asks Sage to help him die. Confessing that he was a Nazi during the Holocaust, Josef shares the unsettling story of his past with Sage. Overwhelmed and confused, Sage contacts the authorities about him. When Leo Stein, a lawyer and Nazi hunter, arrives to investigate Josef, the process leads him to Sage’s grandmother, Minka, a Jew who was persecuted during the war and whose past is intertwined with Josef’s. Picoult writes with compassion and sensitivity about the Holocaust and questions of faith, and she demonstrates extraordinary insight into the grieving process. This is a memorable story that showcases her many gifts as a novelist.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
In her much-praised debut novel, The House Girl, Tara Conklin tells the stories of two very different women—one a contemporary New York City lawyer, the other a 19th-century slave—and the remarkable connection they share. Lina Sparrow is involved in a class-action suit that will benefit the descendants of American slaves when she learns about Josephine Bell. A Virginia house servant who may have executed the acclaimed paintings long attributed to her white mistress, Josephine captures Lina’s imagination. Lina hopes to locate a relative of Josephine’s to enlist in the lawsuit. As she researches Josephine’s life, she begins to wonder about her own past, especially the strange death of her mother two decades ago. The mysteries soon multiply for Lina, and what she learns changes her life forever. Conklin, who worked as a litigator before devoting herself to writing, develops the parallel stories of her two heroines with the skill of a seasoned novelist. Her understanding of history and instinct for detail make The House Girl a remarkably assured debut.
Crace (Being Dead) is a master at creating worlds at once familiar and startlingly sui generis. In a premodern English village, the biblical caution "As ye reap, so ye shall sow" proves true both literally and figuratively; with the hard work of planting and harvesting as backdrop, we see the villagers move inexorably toward a tragedy they've provoked. One morning, Master Kent's stable is found burning, and strangers who have peaceably signaled their presence by sending up the customary smoke plume are blamed; their heads are shaved, and the two men are put in stocks. The only one to show them sympathy is odd Mr. Quill, hired to map the village lands. As suggested by the narrator, Walt--himself an outsider brought to the manor by Master Kent--that mapping heralds a foreboding shift in the village's future that parallels its current troubles. VERDICT A quietly breathtaking work revealing how fate plays with us as we play with fate; highly recommended. [Prepub Alert, 8/27/12]--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal[Page 79]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In his previous 10 novels, the versatile Crace has been heralded for his firmly rooted, painstakingly detailed impressions of time and place, and his latest work is no exception. In fact, the setting--an isolated English farming village, in an unspecified past, with its "planched and thicketed" inhabitants--is so imaginatively described that it stands as the book's richest character. Over the course of seven days following the harvest, the hamlet is alight with sudden change. A mysterious fire has set Master Kent's manor stables and dovecote ablaze. Three newcomers--two men and an ominously alluring woman--who arrived that same night are hastily blamed for the fire. All three have their heads shaved as punishment, and the men are shackled for a week to a pillory. When one of them dies and the master's favorite horse is later found bludgeoned to death, accusations of witchcraft erupt from within the townsfolk's ranks and nothing, not even the secretive Master Kent's halfhearted attempt at rooting out the truth and delivering justice, can quell the thirst for revenge that rattles the once principled town to its foundation. Walter Thirsk plays the perfect unreliable narrator; his deliberations about Master Kent's true intentions, his neighbors' guilt, and his own role in the events deepen an already resonant story. Crace's signature measured delivery and deliberate focus create unforgettably poetic passages that quiver with beauty. An electrifying return to form after All That Follows. Agent: David Godwin, DGA, U.K. (Feb.)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC