In a nutshell , not bad ! It didn’t grab me to begin with, but after a while I found myself quite absorbed by the story, slowly being carried along by the events in a small English village
It is set at a time when the enclosure of land was becoming prevalent, possibly late C16th Unfenced fields for crops provided good work for the villagers , But replacing crops with the more lucrative sheep required both fencing the fields and reducing the number of workers.
The story takes place within one week and is narrated by a villager, a widower who is not quite a villager as he came to the community after he became an adult. Through his marriage to a local girl he is accepted in good times but in times of trouble he doesn’t necessarily have the full trust he deserves.
When strangers arrive in the village, a party on horseback to the manor house and some wanderers who camp on the outskirts of the village, the disintegration of the village is set on its way. In a matter of a few days a stable, balanced community falls apart.
It reminded me of Geraldine Brooks’ “Year of Wonders” but in that case a village turned in on itself and cut itself off from the world. In this story the villagers deserted their homes to spread out into the world. Two different village reactions and two quite different styles of writing, but both enjoyable
One thing I did appreciate with this book was the author’s empathy with the countryside of the village. I don’t think even the best of researchers could give you that feeling of being at one with the living land. These days there is such separation between our food, clothing, shelter, water, warmth. and their origins.
The basic small town story still has it’s equivalent today with the closure of businesses, particularly in small towns. Lords of the Manor have been replaced with politicians and big business. Replace the fields with offshore processing, disregarding the human cost.
But to return to Jim Crace, on page 232 when walking in the rain as dusk takes hold and the sky blackens he writes —–
This downpour has not got the force to last, but for the moment it takes hold. The clouds carry too much weight before they reached this place. I can almost hear them sigh with relief as they let go their load.
In future I’ll be listening for the sighs.