Georgina Harding is one of those writers whose work I’ve long thought underrated. Her elegant, understated prose is meticulously crafted, never more so than in Harvest, her third novel about the Ashe family which echoes both The Gun Room and Land of the Living in its exploration of the legacy of war.
The brooding that was sometimes such a weight in him had seemed to be gone, that previous evening at least, like mud gone from his boots
Jonathan has been home for six months before he sends his lover a photograph, bright with daffodils, and an invitation to visit the Norfolk farm his father took on after the Second World War. Jonathan and Kumiko fell in love when he was teaching English in Tokyo, turning his back on the war photography which had briefly brought him fame then distress. She decides to spend the summer in England after which they might travel together with what he earns from the harvest he’s promised to help his brother Richard bring in. Their mother is surprised at how much this young Japanese woman comes to mean to her, sharing her delight in the garden which has been Claire’s consolation, solace and refuge. Richard remains aloof, immersed in running the farm, believing himself to be following in the footsteps of his father who died when he and Jonathan were children after an apparent shooting accident. As the summer wears on, the tension between the two brothers tightens, Jonathan eager to get in the harvest so that he and Kumiko can leave, while she continues to feel like an outsider. By the end of the novel, a revelation has been made which undermines the fragile structure of this family, built on half-truths and silence.
So fresh and free she looked, in the yellow dress. Sunlight to blaze away the shadows
Harding shifts perspectives between all four protagonists, neatly tying her narrative and themes to the previous two novels through their memories and reflections. This is a family that has long withheld the truth from each other. From the silence shrouding her husband’s war experience, in which Claire was complicit, to the manner of his death, truth is muddied often with the best of intentions but with painful results. Harding’s prose is eloquently spare, punctuated with gorgeous descriptions of the Norfolk summer, each word carefully chosen; even the title is freighted with meaning. Her themes of the legacy of war, grief and truth, or the lack of it, are all compellingly explored. Kumiko’s presence is the brief shaft of sunlight which brightens this family while piercing the darkness of what’s not been said for decades. Harding’s novella is an impressive piece of work in itself but should you like the sound of it, I’d advise reading all three.
Bloomsbury Publishing: London 9781526625083 240 pages Hardback