Rural Reads review #6: Harvest by Jim Crace

by Rob Davies, Volunteer Coordinator and Rural Reads regular.

Harvest-186x300In April, members of Rural Reads read Harvest by Jim Crace –  you can already guess the rural connection. Harvest was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2013 and had rave reviews, the quotes on the back of the book give it high praise. “One of his unquestionable masterpieces” states Phillip Hensher from the Spectator. At the beginning of the discussion I asked the group as a whole if they agreed with these positive reviews and everyone did!

Harvest tells the story of a small rural community during an undisclosed period. We debated over which time period and some of us believed it could be the mid-nineteenth century whereas others thought it could be late medieval. This absence of an exact time lends the author flexibility in his authenticity but also provides the story with a narrow vision, as the reader is unable to identify the wider context.

The narrator Walter Thicket, tells the story of how a village is unravelled within a week, exploring the whimsical natures of humans, how deceit and rumour can lead to betrayal and questions whether anyone can ever really trust anyone else?

From a ‘Rural Reads’ point of view this novel is perfect, the story begins at the end of harvest and goes through to the winter threshing. The narrator guides us through the rural customs of crowning a harvest queen, the celebrations of successfully completing a harvest, right through to the methods of threshing grain. I personally felt that the author was successful in conjuring life in a rural village, and portraying how the weather, beast and man were all connected.

The novel does hold darker themes than that of rural life; it works on the small community mentality and the author picks upon the weakest and most dangerous of his character’s emotions to play with. The group thought it was very much a gripping page turner, but were frustrated as they wanted to find out what happened next!

For May we’re reading one of my favourites, Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier. Join us for the next Rural Reads on May 29th at 5.30pm.

Picture of the month #4: Picking up the last of the Harvest

As our Photographic Assistant is on leave this week, I thought I would try and use our database to find a suitable harvest image. I have to admit I usually run straight to my colleagues in the reading room when I need something from the archives, so I was really pleased that the terms I used (MERL, archive, harvesting, Farmers Weekly) to narrow my search revealed (amongst many others) this beautiful – and local – picture… That was the extent of my researching ability, however, and University Archivist Guy Baxter came to my rescue to delve more deeply and find out more about the image… (Alison Hilton, Marketing Officer)


Picking up the last of the Harvest P_FW_PH2_H29_3 (2)

Picking up the last of the Harvest P_FW_PH2_H29_3 (2)

This photograph, by the Reading based photographer Eric Guy, shows “lodged wheat” being gathered up by hand in 1945. When a crop is “lodged” it means that it has been flattened by the wind, making it difficult to harvest. Eric Guy gave this photograph the caption “Picking up the last of the Harvest” but this particular print was not found in his own collection at MERL, but in the Museum’s Farmers Weekly’s picture library collection. In fact, the image was used in Farmers Weekly on 19 October 1945, with the following caption:

“The “Indian Summer” has enabled crops to be rescued in many parts of the country. This lodged wheat, on a farm in the Streatley Hills, near Basildon, Berks, was too much for the binder, but now it has been safely hand-gathered.”

A binder is a machine for reaping crops – now largely obsolete, as the combine-harvester does the job of both the binder and the threshing machine. For details of the binder on display at MERL, see the entry in our database 

Although at first glance the crop is being loaded onto an old farm wagon, a closer look reveals rubber tyres, and a tractor rather than a horse at the front.