British author Jim Crace has long declared his intention to retire. In 2008, he said that he planned to be done with fiction by age 65. Now 67, and busting his own deadline by a couple of years, he has turned in his last novel.
That means that long-time Crace fans will approach the book with both anticipation and trepidation. There is the hope that the story will live up to expectations, especially since his last, The Pest House (2007), was a distinct disappointment.
But there is also the worry, given his stellar track record, that this might just end his career on a whimper rather than a bang.
So I am happy to report that while Harvest is no eye-popping fireworks display, it is an assured, masterly meditation that gathers power from its deliberately paced storytelling.
In classic Crace fashion, the setting is a mythic village that gains immediacy through the specifics of its creation.
As a storyteller, Crace excels at the tiny details that give form and substance to his creations. Harvest delineates the rhythms of life in a classic English farming community, unmoored in time, but anchored in ancient rituals of planting and harvesting.
This way of life is seen through the eyes of the narrator, Walter Thirsk, a widower who married into the village and is at once a part of it and apart from it.
The village is on the verge of momentous change - Master Kent who rules this patch of countryside has brought in a new man, Mr Quill, who is charting the hills and vales of the terrain. While most of the villagers are still unaware, content in their routine, Thirsk scents change and is uneasy.