The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

1. First lines 2. Publisher: Penguin and Grove Atlantic
I enjoyed this book.
So that’s what village life in 1491 was like. 

It’s 1491 in the village of Oakham, England, and a man has died, presumed drowned. The priest, John Reeve, is tasked with finding out through the confessional whether it was a murder, his parishioners enticed with the promise of a pardon.

Quotes from the book:

  • “Carter hadn’t known much about his parents; everyone in the village had had a hand in bringing him to adulthood, me too. Then Newman came, a wary, childless man, and there was Carter, a wary, parentless child of eight years, and Carter went in to live with him at the old wooden manse when it wasn’t much more than a leaky outhouse.
  • “A village of scrags and outcasts, Oakham, Beastville, Pigtown, Nobridge. The village that came to no good; the only village for miles around that doesn’t trade wool, doesn’t make cloth, doesn’t have the skill to build a bridge. Here’s the village we pass by, with its singing milkmaids, we call it Cheesechurn, Milkpasture, Cowudder. It’s Lord is as pudgy and spineless as the cheese he makes. Its people are vagrants that were ousted form their own villages and are in most respects desperate. Its richest man was whisked off down the river and drowned. And here is its priest: young John Reve, roosting in the dark. For all that he’s overseen by Christ, he’s led his people to no further illumination.”

 Author’s website


  • The Western Wind is as densely packed as all of Harvey’s work: it’s a historical novel full of the liveliness and gristle of the period it depicts; an absorbing mystery with an unpredictable flurry of twists in its last few pages; a scarily nuanced examination of a long-term moral collapse; a beautifully conceived and entangled metaphor for Britain’s shifting relationships with Europe. But most of all it’s a deeply human novel of the grace to be found in people.” Full review: The Guardian
  • “…the book’s flaws are far outweighed by the luminosity of the writing and the masterly evocation of a world so utterly different from the one we live in, a world peopled largely by those who have lived and died unrecorded, but whose existence was no less rich or particularised than our own — and just as brimful of the mixture of the sublime and the ordinary that is the stuff of life. Full review: Financial Times

Awards: 2019 Longlist Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

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