As late summer steals in and the final pearls of barley are gleaned, a village comes under threat. Over the course of seven days, Walter Thirsk sees his hamlet unmade: the manor house set on fire, the harvest blackened, three new arrivals punished, and his neighbours accused of witchcraft. But something even darker is at the heart of his story, and he will be the only man left to tell it…
©2013 Jim Crace (P)2013 Recorded Books LLC
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"A good (maybe great) book poorly read"
This timeless narrative is very well written, with evocative descriptions of a rural English world that is long gone but deeply embedded in our cultural psyche. I enjoyed it while listening to this short book, but have been surprised how much it has stuck with me - I've often found myself thinking back on it.
The reading performance I found distractingly bad - possibly the worst I've experienced yet. I found his voice and some of his pronunciations (e.g. 'manny' instead of 'many') irritating, and whenever he did a voice for a character he seemed to put on the same exaggerated squeeky village simpleton voice. This is clearly a matter of taste though, as others have rated the performance highly.
I've read/listened to 3 of the 6 books on the 2013 Booker shortlist so far, and I think this would have been a worthy winner.
I love it when a novel takes me to a place or time that's new and unknown to me, and 'Harvest' certainly did that. The vague impressions I have of that period in British history, around 1800, when the aristocratic landowners were able to clear the common lands of the common people, in order to use the forests for the much more profitable rearing of sheep, were brought to wonderful, brutal life by the author.
What I like about this novel, though, is that there are no innocents. The village is ancient, but not venerable; it's not a bucolic paradise but a closeted little world with harsh justice and a stagnant gene pool. The indigents may be innocent of the crimes they're accused of, but they're unforgiving and vengeful in the end; and the landlord, and his people, are, for better or worse, responsible for preparing the way for the industrial revolution and our modern world ... So we're all found wanting in this tale. It's well narrated (though the narrator's idiosyncratic pronunciation of 'cloth' as 'clorth' was distracting) and I'll definitely be searching out more of Jim Crace's work.
Great narrative, poorly narrated. I found myself wondering if the reader had ever attempted to read out loud before. Eccentric handling of several words which became quite laughable. Great story though, so worth persevering.
I thought the narrator odd at first, then realised his intonation was perfect for the time in which the story is set. I really enjoyed this unusual book.
"Really interesting historical novel"
This book is a very interesting imagining of the period of land enclosures that formed our modern England. It is told from the point of view of a villager who is, himself, a "newcomer", as he watches his timeless way of life fall apart when some "newcomers" unwittingly act as catalysts for this change. It is about an England whose landscape is both unchanging and subject to brutal periods of change, as the Common land is enclosed for the more "efficient" farming methods of the 18th C. to come. The cast of characters are all as dimly
perceived as we perceive the villagers of a long gone era.
I really enjoyed the poetry of the writing, despite a bizarre naration. The reader mis-pronounces some common words in a really odd way, and seems to emphasise the wrong parts of sentences, pausing for effect in meaningless places. He is really irritating in his diction. I would not normally criticise someone's hard work, but there were several times when I was desperate for the book to end as a result. I think this does an excellently researched and beautifully written book a serious injustice. It is an important topic.
"Novel and narration not cut from the same "clorth""
A truly great novel ruined by a bizarre performance. Keating's accent is convincing at first but British listeners will soon be sniggering every time he mentions "cloth" or "lasses" (which is pretty frequently). His slow, considered delivery would make a kind of sense for the character telling the story, but it becomes clear that this is more a result of of the reader concentrating carefully on doing his best English accent.
If I'm wrong and Keating is British, then
this is just plain weird.
This book deserves far far better.
"What strange reading!"
One of the strengths of this book is the lyricism of the phrasing, which is poetic and lovely. But this reader divvies up the sentences into symmetrical blocks, irrespective of the meaning. At times it sounds as if he's sight reading and hasn't yet understood the sense of the text. In addition there is some very odd pronunciation - cloth is clawth and compost is as in lamp post.
I had to finish this book as it's set for my Book Group this month, otherwise I would have given up. But as I listened further, I did became tuned in to the reader's idiosyncratic delivery and was glad I persevered. But I do feel the book is ill served by the reader.
"Wish I had read rather than listened to it"
I struggled to get through the book.
As other reviews mentioned, the narrator really detracts from the book. The pace of the narration is odd, the pronunciation of certain words distracting. It is hammy. Most importantly for me, his voice didn't seem to fit the character. The novel is written in the first person, so this is important.
It is a fascinating novel, with some really acute observation. But I wish I had read it. I would have been really inspired by the descriptions of the village and a way of life that was dying - as it was I felt irritated by the ponderous and self-important narration.
"Interesting story, shame about the narration!"
I wouldn't listen to this recording again. Although Keating has an excellent voice his irritating, pause filled delivery almost stopped me listening. Had it been a longer story I would definitely have given up and bought a hard copy to read myself. I checked another of his recording wondering if this was a style he adopted for this particular story and although it wasn't as extreme, I know I couldn't listen to another story read by him. Such a pity I would have liked to hear some Benjamin Black stories.
Master Kent and the narrator Walter Thirsk were the most interesting simply because we knew more about them. They were also the people you hoped would perform some act of defiance. In the end Walter did commit a final act which could be interpreted as defiant but wasn't really, it was more out of respect for one he would have liked to call friend.
He really interrupted the flow of the story by imposing his own rhythm. To be clear I'm talking about John Keating not Walter Thrisk!
No, it was very difficult listening.
"Good book, bad reading"
I would avoid anything narrated by John Keating. His reading seriously detracts from this book.
I enjoyed the rich textures of period life in a small farming village.
He reads each sentence as a grand, portent-laden pronouncement, even if he's just describing a hat. It's tiring and ruins the pace.
Just - the characters and story are interesting up to a point. Then it seems as though Crace isn't sure how to finish the story and wrap things up, so he hurries through a set of unexpected and unbelievable events.
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