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When I started this blog back in 2013 one of the very first books I posted about was Jim Crace’s novel “Harvest” which had such a subtly powerful impact on me that it strangely affected my dreams. Looking back on that I’m somewhat chilled to see I discussed the book in conjunction with a documentary about Donald Trump bullying his way into developing a golf course in Scotland. The nightmares I had at that time would have been much worse if I had guessed he’d one day gain the political power he possesses today! Something that I find so fascinating about Jim Crace’s writing is that he’s able to identify many of our underlying fears and anxieties about living in an ever-changing society and situate them in a time and place that are carefully removed from reality. Crace’s fictional landscape resembles our world, but you can’t locate it anywhere in history and its geographical location can’t be found on any map. His fiction is highly realistic in tone and utilises descriptions that feel authentic, but only in the way our dreams feel true in the moment we’re experiencing them.

Crace’s new novel “The Melody” focuses on fictional famous singer Alfred Busi who is entering his twilight years living in the dilapidated villa situated in a seaside town where he was born. His position as one of the town’s most prominent and respected citizens is changing to that of a relic from the past as he’s being honoured by a placement in the town’s Hall of Fame. In conjunction with this honour, he’s been invited to give a performance that’s meant to symbolize the crowning achievement of his career. But he’s unsettled by rumblings from strange animals who plunder the rubbish bins outside his house at night and one evening when he goes down to investigate this disturbance he suffers a brief attack by an unknown naked boy who is plundering his larder. This odd occurrence sets him off on a downward spiral as he becomes aware of an impoverished section of the community that represents a perceived threat to the more civilized citizens of the town. He also discovers there are designs to bring down the crumbling villa he shared with his late wife to make way for a swish new modern development. In this way, Crace dramatizes class conflict and the angst of modern life through the collapse of a grieving musician’s life.

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It’s humorous how Crace even takes the joke of his fictional counter-reality into the acknowledgements of this novel. Here he claims to have consulted a biography of Busi, the estate of his family, old issues of the town’s newspaper and also he “thanks the people of…” In not completing this sentence he affirms that this town isn’t specifically located anywhere despite references in the book to real place like Long Island or fancy foodstuff from different real nations. It’s like this quality of verisimilitude in Crace’s fiction is inviting the reader to experience his novel as if it were a play; audience members are always aware that they are watching a play, but if it’s sufficiently moving it will feel true. So Crace’s odd tale has all the marks of our reality, but it’s really occurring in some unconscious realm. There is an inflammatory journalist who seeks to stir in his readers repugnance and fear of the poor with his exaggerated reports of the threat they pose. A community is sanitised and gentrified as wildlife and homeless people are forcibly relocated. It feels like some version of these things happen all around us, but we’re usually only privy to it through second-hand information just like the citizens of Crace’s fictional town. It’s an extraordinary style of writing subtly bending place and time in a way that I don’t think many other authors have done – except perhaps Kazuo Ishiguro in his masterful novel “The Unconsoled”.

That’s not to say I think Crace is always successful in the special way he crafts his novels. While “Harvest” had a propulsive dramatic intensity to it, “The Melody” meanders somewhat and it doesn’t feel like there’s as much at stake. I thought the most effective parts are when Crace writes about Busi’s process of mourning and missing his wife: “The darkness held and always would the wife that he had loved and lost.” It’s also very powerful when he writes about how the limits of our circumstances disallow us from creating the art we’re capable of: “Some melodies are never meant to find their words.” Also, the overall tone of the novel is effectively unsettling and odd. However, the bulk of the story’s action feels too consumed with Alfred Busi’s ill-advised roaming and reconciliations that aren’t quite earned. Crace’s writing always has a graceful beauty to it and his style is utterly fascinating, but I don’t think “The Melody” is quite as strong as some of his previous novels.

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AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesJim Crace

Richard Ford - Canada

Tony Hogan Bought Me An IceCream Float Before He Stole My Ma – Kerry Hudson

Flight Behaviour - Barbara Kingsolver

Union Atlantic – Adam Haslett

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

Artful – Ali Smith

Harvest – Jim Crace

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

The Wasp Factory – Ian Banks

My top books of the year are mostly new releases with big Booker winner “The Luminaries” taking a prominent place. It’s such a complex, rewarding and intelligent novel it did really deserve to win the Booker. Speaking of award winners the book that I think should have won this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction was Kingsolver’s “Flight Behaviour.” It’s a really heartfelt story of a woman making difficult choices in her private life as well as a moving meditation on environmental issues. I know many people are tired of reading the nearly-universal and never-ending praise for Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” but it really is one of my top reads and totally mesmerized me. Another acclaimed writer whose book I absolutely loved was Richard Ford’s novel “Canada” which peters out somewhat towards the end, but has the most heart-breaking opening section. A book that totally swept me away was Ali Smith’s novel-ish book “Artful” which redefines the limits of what can be done in fiction while making every page feel immediately important and relevant to my life. "Harvest" attacked my subconscious and made its way into my dreams to leave me haunted and wondering. I’ve read Adam Haslett’s powerful stories before so was very excited to finally get to his novel “Union Atlantic” which is a really fascinating story about a few very different central characters and also a novel that critiques the causalities and pitfalls of capitalism gone mad. Two British books that captivated me are “Black Bread White Beer” and “Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma.” They explore areas of society and issues not often covered in contemporary fiction. Sadly, the author Iain Banks died this year which prompted me to reread “The Wasp Factor.” It’s so unbelievably original and has so many interesting things to say about masculinity and human nature. Now I must get to his other books.

It’s been interesting how starting this blog has prompted me to read more although I always have been an avid reader. I’m not sure anyone actually reads my posts (if you do thank you), but I’ve been enjoying the way writing about books helps me organize my thoughts and put them down someplace so I won’t forget them. Hopefully I’ll continue on all throughout next year. I know there are so many great books I didn't get to read this year. As always, I'm trying to catch up.

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AuthorEric Karl Anderson
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Have you ever finished a book and you know it’s affected you on some deep subliminal level because you have very vivid dreams that evening? This has happened to me before when I read the fantastic nightmarish graphic novel Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie. I think with that book the dreams were instigated by Gebbie’s powerful drawings. It’s happened again with Harvest and in this case I think it’s because of Crace’s masterful use of language and his subject matter.

This tale is narrated by Walter Thirsk, a long-time resident of a very small and isolated agricultural community. Crace uses almost lyrical language to describe the pastoral pleasures and hardships of farming wheat. There’s a tremendous unity felt for the small group of residents in their annual harvest with its hard work and traditional ceremonies. He doesn’t over-romanticise or shirk from the gritty realism of this rural life describing how there is also domestic strife, meagre eating when crops go bad and terminal disease due to lack of medical care. Nevertheless, the residents labour and subsist in a way that is largely harmonious and connected to the land. Then intruders arrive. There are two types. The first is a small group of three wanderers whose motives are unknown. The community seizes them when they seem threatening and subject them to punishments. The second is the cousin of the lord of the community who has come to claim the land as his own and transform it into a pasture for sheep. The residents react to these intruders in very different ways. The actions of intruders and residents ultimately lead to the disintegration of the community altogether.

While Thirsk has lived in the community for a long time, having married and lost his wife who is a local resident, he is still an outsider and this viewpoint gives Crace the advantageous position of describing village life from both an intimate and a more objective perspective. Walter bears witness to the unravelling of the age-old life in the community over the course of little more than a week. The story speaks to how we are both bound to each other through necessity in order to subsist and the ways in which we are inevitably in opposition with one another through greed and the desire to dominate – the land, resources, each other. I connected with this on a really personal level having wanted for many years to live in an intentional community called Twin Oaks in Virginia which seeks to, as much as possible, live in a way that is self-sustaining within the larger society. The book speaks of the pleasures and perils of living in a way that is so removed.

So now about my dream. I was being held captive by a small group of people in a bleak fortress with many rooms. I tried to escape from my captors running through multiple corridors and climbing over a high fence studded with barbed wire. I woke up feeling very unsettled so to calm myself I watched a film before getting back to sleep. The movie I randomly picked to watch was ‘You’ve Been Trumped’, the story of Donald Trump’s ambition to build a world-class golf course in Aberdeen despite the Scottish residents’ objections and environmentalists’ protests. The politicians and police force are influenced by Trump and leave the residents helpless to stop their land from being bulldozed and developed with most of Trump’s promises of enhancing local life going unmet. Watching this it struck me that this is the same story of Harvest. Rural residents get bullied out of the homes they’ve lived in for generations due to the strategic plans and despotic nature of more powerful outside individuals/groups. By grabbing land, stripping resources and oppressing vulnerable residents, “progress” continues to march on and the weak are winnowed out. After finishing watching the documentary I fell back asleep and this time I was the oppressor. I dreamed I was working to force people out of their homes pushing old women aside and brutalizing the inhabitants. I woke up shaken and disgusted with the thought that I could be an oppressor as well. It’s in all of our natures to dominate and destroy in order to enhance the possibility of our own survival. It’s impressive how Crace deals with this subject matter with such style and power that he can speak of universal truths through the lens of one small lost community.

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AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesJim Crace