Harvest by Jim Crace opens with the joyous day after the harvest, the day off, the day of celebration, only to have to put out a fire in the Master’s stable. The fire is extinguished without a fatality except for Walt’s hands. Walt is the most recent addition to the Village. He is an outsider, a visitor who stayed. He married, but his wife soon died. He is a widower like Master Kent. Another visitor, Mr. Earle or Mr. Quill as the Villagers call him. Mr. Quill is so called because he wanders about the Village with a canvas and quill to record or account the property for the real heirs of the land. Master Kent married into the land and he is not blood. A third group of visitors have also appeared and are blamed for the fire. The two men are head shaven and pilloried while the older woman is head shaven and disappears.
Walt is our narrator and has slowly become “a beer and bacon man who knew the proper value of an iris bulb. It did not take any working days before I understood that the land itself, from sod to meadow, is inflexible and stern. It is impatient, in fact. It cannot wait. There’s not a season set aside for pondering and reveries. It will not hesitate or rest, it does not wish us to stand back and comment on its comeliness or devise a song for it. It has no time to listen to our song. It only asks us not to tire in our hard work.”
With the coming of the new master, Master Jordan and his evil minions. “He’ll put an end to all the sauntering. He will replace us with a nobler stock.” Sheep are his answer and he doesn’t need the Village, the people or the land as is. Things will change as Master Havoc and Lady Pandemonium rule the land now. What starts as fire will end in ash.