Posted 20 hours ago

All Among the Barley

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How times have changes in the way farming is approached and handled, not to mention the treatment of farm labourers, workers and family.

From the author of Costa-shortlisted and Baileys-longlisted At Hawthorn Time comes a major new novel. However she is also a successful novelist – her second novel “In the Hawthorn Time” being shortlisted for the Costa Prize and longlisted for the Women’s Prize – and I had seen this book as an outsider for the Booker longlist (in fact given the theme that the judges seemed to pick out across their books I am perhaps surprised at its exclusion). Melissa Harrison's knowledge of the old ways and traditional words had me reaching for the dictionary many times. Moreover, the novel captures the sense of loss inherent in the community as a consequence of the Great War. Her second novel, the Costa-shortlisted At Hawthorn Time, presented a determinedly modern portrait of rural life that, while full of wonder, could also be bleak and brutal.I loved dogs and wasn’t able to have one of my own, so they were mine for a short while, by virtue of me being a guest.

As Wendell Berry has said in his poetry, the entire language of traditional farming began to disappear with mechanization.Interestingly as an aside – shortly after writing this book, the author decided to leave her City life and move to a small cottage in the Suffolk countryside where this book was set. There’s the depression after all, and he’s one of those typical men of his time who bottles up his feelings, resulting in sudden rages.

Again, it’s all very subtlety done, woven into the fabric of the story to avoid it feeling too overt. Both a commentary on our world and a reminder of where similar sentiments ended before – with fascism across Europe, WW2 and the Holocaust – this is a book which dramatizes both the insidious pull of repellent politics and the extent to which they depend on skewed storytelling and invented mythologies. I’m a city girl but when I spend time in the country, it’s like eating chocolate - I can’t stop thinking about it and I want more of it! Nonetheless, I very much liked Constance FitzAllen through most of the book and admired the way that, politics aside, she developed an abiding love of her surroundings and was eager to play her part in village life, and help out with harvesting and farm work. I drank fresh unpasteurised milk (milked from Rosie, the Jersey Cow who had curled horns and hip bones that stuck out).For a novel so gentle and with plots and sub-plots which build slowly, it comes as a real and sudden punch in the gut. This is no sentimental idyll, as there are also sinister political undercurrents at play, and it is impossible not to see the parallels Harrison makes with the febrile atmosphere around Brexit and the populist right.

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