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The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

The Western Wind (edition 2019)

by Samantha Harvey

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1166154,225 (3.48)10
Title:The Western Wind
Authors:Samantha Harvey
Info:London : Vintage Books, 2019.
Collections:To read

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The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
A medieval Memento-meets-Rev whodunnit. The structure cleverly leads you to draw certain conclusions, but things are never that simple, are they? Critics have fairly pointed out there’s a missed opportunity to reward rereading by smuggling in more clues, but it’s fun enough all the same. ( )
  alexrichman | Apr 5, 2019 |
It’s the beginning of Lent in the isolated Somerset village of Oakham, some time in the late fifteenth century. As the villagers prepare for their forty days of penance, a dead man is seen in the river. By the time rescuers come to help, the body has been swept away, but a fragment of clothing confirms its identity: Tom Newman, a prosperous, curious dreamer, and one of the few villagers to have ventured beyond the parish boundaries. The rains have been falling heavily and the riverbanks are thick with mud. He could have slipped in. But the question remains: was it misadventure or murder? As the small community huddles under bleak skies and heavy rains, the priest John Reve struggles to comprehend the mystery, dogged by the interference of the visiting dean, weighed down by the confessions of his parishioners, and troubled by the way that Newman’s death threatens to pull apart a whole network of secrets, doubts and obligations that bolster Oakham against the outside world...

For the full review, please see my blog:
https://theidlewoman.net/2018/08/29/the-western-wind-samantha-harvey/ ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Aug 29, 2018 |
In 15th century Somerset, a village is isolated between high ground and a river. Various attempts to find funding and the skills to build a bridge have foundered, and with it the village’s hopes of prosperity. Then in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, the body of a villager is swept away by the river and everyone looks to the priest for answers. ‘The Western Wind’ by Samantha Harvey is a contemplative, slow burn about John Reve, the priest, his care for the villagers of Oakham, and the persistent questions of his visiting rural dean about the death of Thomas Newman.
The story timeline is chopped up and told backwards, which adds to the mystery. The novel starts with the sighting of the body and the finding of a green shirt in the bulrushes. This is a sign, Reve says, that Newman’s soul has crossed into heaven. Only at the end, do we find out the truth of what really happened. The dean is a threat; we never know his name, and only at the end are we given a physical description of him. He suggests to Reve that as this is the season of confession, a pardon be issued to anyone confessing in the next three days. This, he hopes, will enable him to tell the archdeacon that the death was investigated and the village is full of church-going people who are faithful penitents. He tells Reve: ‘You’re the parish priest – your word weighs a hundred times a normal man’s, two hundred times a woman’s, three hundred times a child’s. Your word is a silver weight in the palm. Your word is worth trading money for. It would cut like a stone through water.’ But what is a parish to do if a priest fails in his office and then compounds that failure with lies; and worse, encourages a parishioner to lie. Everyone in the village is affected by what has happened. Reve has a privileged position, he listens to the confessions of all the villagers; he knows their secrets. But to whom does he tell his own secrets? Unsure his actions and feeling threatened by the dean’s relentless questions, he asks God to send the western wind as a sign of approval and to blow away the spirits.
There are all sorts of themes going on here. The fine line between religion and superstition. The hypocrisy and lies of religion and its priests. The honesty and doggedness of the rural poor and their willingness to believe in symbols and spirits as well as God. It considers the practice of confession, that allows a person to sin in the knowledge that they will be blessed by the priest afterwards.
This is a careful, restrained novel – as fitting its contemplative clerical narrator – rich in descriptive detail. But at times I wishes it moved a little faster or was a little shorter. Told entirely from Reve’s point of view, it might perhaps have benefited from another voice. I also found the ending rather abrupt.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | May 26, 2018 |
1491 and Oakham is a small Somerset village cut off from its neighbours by a flood swollen river. When the wealthy landowner Newman disappears, Priest John Reve has to hold the village together under threat. One by one the villagers come to confess and John finds himself holder of secrets and lies. However John Reve also has secrets and the local Dean may find these out.

For all its setting in a medieval village, this is an age old story of people's secrets and suspicions. Whilst there is plenty of reference to the era, and it forms a good setting in terms of priestly confession, there is a modern take on historical fiction here. ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Apr 13, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
The Western Wind, is a medieval detective story...Harvey delivers all this with the intelligence and sympathy you would expect from the author of The Wilderness...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.
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Dust and ashes though I am, I sleep the sleep of angels.
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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 - was it an 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.… (more)

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