The view from the crest of the hill reveals a dozen increments of green in the hillocks and valleys below, from the fresh lime of the young wheat crop to the gothic dark of the Yews in the churchyard just visible in the distance. When poet Edward Blake wrote of England as “this green and pleasant land’’, this view, near Cleobury Mortimer in Shropshire, surely was exactly the scene he had in his mind. This is not an isolate patch of rural idyll. From here it is possible to walk for days through endless countryside without engaging with frenetic modern life much more than just crossing the occasional major road before clambering over a stile and disappearing back into the land where time can be forgotten.
Shropshire is the most rural of England’s counties. It borders North Wales and was once part of the ancient Welsh Kingdom of Powys although times and
The inhabitants of the small English village, so meager that it does not even have a name, are celebrating the end of the annual harvest. It is a rare moment of carefree pleasure for the families who eke a living growing crops and grazing their animals on the common land they have lived on “since Adam”.
But the arrival of a surveyor, taking stock and drawing maps of the land, creates a cloying atmosphere of anxiety and gossip. Then fire destroys the stable block and outbuildings belonging to the benign Master Kent, who owns the fields and effectively the village. A ragtag mob sets off following the thin ribbon of smoke rising from a lean-to on the edge of the common. The strangers make ready culprits. The two men ending up in to stocks, the enigmatic woman, shorn but free.
Crace’s Harvest, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, is set in an unspecified year during