Author: Samantha Harvey
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Hardcover 304 pages
Release Date: 1 March 2018
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
I saw this book in a charity shop and the blurb sounded interesting. Being a fan of historical fiction and not having read this genre for a while I thought ‘let’s give this a go’. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
15th century Oakham, in Somerset; a tiny village cut off by a big river with no bridge. When a man is swept away by the river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, an explanation has to be found: accident, suicide or murder? The village priest, John Reve, is privy to many secrets in his role as confessor. But will he be able to unravel what happened to the victim, Thomas Newman, the wealthiest, most capable and industrious man in the village? And what will happen if he can’t?
Moving back in time towards the moment of Thomas Newman’s death, the story is related by Reve – an extraordinary creation, a patient shepherd to his wayward flock, and a man with secrets of his own to keep. Through his eyes, and his indelible voice, Harvey creates a medieval world entirely tangible in its immediacy.
The story is told backwards in the days following a death of an influential member of the small village of Oakham. It is told as a narrative from the village’s priest and we learn about other members of the village through the confessions they give to the priest during daily confessional.
The authors prose is quite unlike anything I’ve read recently and it made a refreshing change for me as a reader. The author beautifully describes what life would be like in a small village back in the 15th century. There are some big latin words thrown in and quite a lot of biblical references, but then, the story is told by a priest so I guess that’s to be expected.
I was a little disappointed in the ending, I was reading all the way through waiting for a big reveal and for me it never seemed to happen but I don’t think this book is about ‘a big reveal’. Having said that, I could see this book making a really good reading club book choice as there is a lot of themes that could be explored in quite great detail and the language used would make good discussion points.
If you are looking for an easy read with a fast hard hitting story line then this probably isn’t for you, but if you’re looking for something quietly understated and with depth then I would recommend.
About the Author
Samantha Harvey has appeared on the linguists for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize, and the shortlists of the James Tait Black Award, the Orange Prize, and the Guardian First Book Award.
She is a tutor on the MA course in creative writing at Bath Spa University.
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