Landscape and a sense of place can be a powerful tool in a novel.
The novelist’s evocation of the setting where he or she chooses to place his characters – or where he or she happens to stumble across them, depending on your point of view – can be so powerful that the landscape becomes a character in its own right. It rages, comforts, reassures; welcomes or rejects any incomers trying to settle, shape their space, carve out their corner.
The author of the Man Booker Prize shortlisted Harvest, Jim Crace, will be giving a retrospective of his career at this year’s Huddersfield Literature Festival. Set in an isolated farming community, Harvest begins with “Two twists of smoke” establishing their presence on the landscape, alerting the locals to the presence of the strangers who will threaten their way of life.
Harvest is set in an unnamed part of the country at an unspecified time. While works of fiction are often set in a clearly identified landscape or one that relates to the author’s surroundings and the landscape’s past, such as Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, one family of writers stamped their mark so firmly on the landscape that it now bears their name.
Brontë Country – straddling the West Yorkshire and East Lancashire Pennines and sweeping down to the beautiful countryside that surrounds our town of Huddersfield – is, of course, where Charlotte, Emily and Anne wrote their great and enduring works.
Living here allows the opportunity to escape within moments from the bustle contained within the tightly fastened belt of the town’s ring road, out into a rich and varied landscape: Castle Hill, Marsden Moor, the Calder Valley, Holmfirth – and of course the Brontë’s own Haworth.
Harvest was published, it was to great critical acclaim: the Sunday Times called it: “As finely written as it is tautly structured… an achievement worth to stand alongside those of William Golding.” The author of 10 previous novels, Jim Crace has said that Harvest will be his last. Let’s hope he changes his mind.
Jim Crace will be In Conversation with renowned book critic Suzi Feay on Sunday 9 March, 5pm, in the Diamond Jubilee Lecture Theatre, Business School, University of Huddersfield (tickets £4, conc. £2).