The Western Wind
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: 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. Through his eyes, and his indelible voice, Harvey creates a medieval world entirely tangible in its immediacy.

The Western Wind Details

TitleThe Western Wind
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 1st, 2018
PublisherJonathan Cape
ISBN-139781787330597
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Mystery, Literary Fiction

The Western Wind Review

  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    A quiet, serious story set in 1491, the year Henry VIII was born, of conscience, guilt, desire, and the struggles between religion and superstition, the body and flesh. Harvey sets her tale in the run-up to Lent, and tells it through the voice of a village priest and confessor, privy to the secrets of his congregation but keeping his own to the last. With the machinations of church men and the shade of the nearby monastery foreshadowing events we know will come in the next 40 or so years, this i A quiet, serious story set in 1491, the year Henry VIII was born, of conscience, guilt, desire, and the struggles between religion and superstition, the body and flesh. Harvey sets her tale in the run-up to Lent, and tells it through the voice of a village priest and confessor, privy to the secrets of his congregation but keeping his own to the last. With the machinations of church men and the shade of the nearby monastery foreshadowing events we know will come in the next 40 or so years, this is aware of history in a subtle way. Controlled, careful writing keeps this restrained and internally-focused. Thanks to Random House/Vintage for an ARC via NetGalley.
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  • Always Pink
    January 1, 1970
    I did not like what the autor made me do: Read a story backwards, haltingly, with quite a bit of effort, trying to keep people and stories apart. Trying to make sense of what happened, trying to figure out a plot that was not unfolding itself before my eyes, but had to be searched and dug for like a hidden core or nugget of wisdom. Against the grain, against the flow, even against my will as it were - albeit the story is finely executed, alive with fully drawn characters (especially its narrator I did not like what the autor made me do: Read a story backwards, haltingly, with quite a bit of effort, trying to keep people and stories apart. Trying to make sense of what happened, trying to figure out a plot that was not unfolding itself before my eyes, but had to be searched and dug for like a hidden core or nugget of wisdom. Against the grain, against the flow, even against my will as it were - albeit the story is finely executed, alive with fully drawn characters (especially its narrator) and giving deep insights into medieval thinking - "The Western Wind" simply did not do it for me. I do not care for open endings and do not like that I have had to read a whole book only to be left in the end (i.e. beginning) with a lot of unanswerable questions of a mainly spiritual nature.
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  • Colin Mitchell
    January 1, 1970
    The Western Wind has been widely praised in the British press reviews and I took the Kindle download. This is a crime novel but with a strong philosophical element and it starts off the wrong way round commencing on day four and working backwards to the disappearance of Thomas Newman, local landowner and benefactor.Father Reve the local priest has deep debates with himself about his actions and how they affect his church and congregation about the very basis of his religion and its bearing on hi The Western Wind has been widely praised in the British press reviews and I took the Kindle download. This is a crime novel but with a strong philosophical element and it starts off the wrong way round commencing on day four and working backwards to the disappearance of Thomas Newman, local landowner and benefactor.Father Reve the local priest has deep debates with himself about his actions and how they affect his church and congregation about the very basis of his religion and its bearing on his actions. A lot of time is spent in the confessional and debating with himself.A medieval setting with modern language interspersed with medieval words, a little off putting. Lots of intrigue being the main basis of the story and the plot is Father Reve's actions to protect himself and his flock.Just 3stars for me.
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  • Eleanor
    January 1, 1970
    I read this just after Elizabeth Goudge's novel Towers in the Mist, which provided an interesting exercise in comparison: The Western Wind is set a hundred and fifty years before Towers in the Mist, and the boisterous wonder of the Renaissance has not yet settled on England. Nor are we in such an exalted locale as Oxford. Instead, Harvey puts us down in Oakham, a small and isolated village in Somerset (travellers who get lost in the area tend to end up in Wales). Oakham is dying: it has a river, I read this just after Elizabeth Goudge's novel Towers in the Mist, which provided an interesting exercise in comparison: The Western Wind is set a hundred and fifty years before Towers in the Mist, and the boisterous wonder of the Renaissance has not yet settled on England. Nor are we in such an exalted locale as Oxford. Instead, Harvey puts us down in Oakham, a small and isolated village in Somerset (travellers who get lost in the area tend to end up in Wales). Oakham is dying: it has a river, but lacks a bridge, and therefore a port or wharf, and therefore trade. The local lord, Townshend, is under the deluded belief that cheese will make Oakham's fortune, though there is no market for the products (anyone with a cow can make cheese, so why pay your neighbours for it?) Townshend has been losing his land, slowly but steadily, to Thomas Newman—an incomer to the area, but, we're given to understand, a good man. As the book opens, Newman has drowned in the river, and the village priest, John Reve, is under pressure from the rural dean to find his killer.The Western Wind is complicated in a way that Towers in the Mist is not. Those allegorical names, for instance: Townshend (town's end), Newman (...come on), Reve (reeve; an archaic position in local government that involved law enforcement duties). Then there's Reve himself, a man curiously slow to offer the things a priest must offer in fifteenth-century England, pre-eminently earthly judgment. Reve is passive, and not especially convinced of the sinfulness of his flock, and—relatedly—not especially convinced of his fitness to serve as their channel to God, though he never quite admits his doubts to himself. Then there is the sub-theme about technology and development; about building a bridge, and the money it'll take to do it; about stewarding your land, and what that involves; about stewarding a people, and how ill-equipped those designated as leaders can be. It's a very slow-rolling book, like a river after a flood but before the waters have gone back down, with a lot of unobvious things churning about in its depths. The more I think about it, the happier I'd be to see it on the Women's Prize longlist.
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  • Margaret
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 stars rounded up to 5The Western Wind really is an extraordinary book. I was drawn into the story right from the start. Samantha Harvey’s writing brings to life the sights, smells and sounds of the daily life of the ordinary people living in Oakham, a small village in Somerset in 1491. So often in historical fiction it’s about the notable historical figures of the period that are the main characters – here there none (although there is a reference to their bishop who is in prison for trying 4.5 stars rounded up to 5The Western Wind really is an extraordinary book. I was drawn into the story right from the start. Samantha Harvey’s writing brings to life the sights, smells and sounds of the daily life of the ordinary people living in Oakham, a small village in Somerset in 1491. So often in historical fiction it’s about the notable historical figures of the period that are the main characters – here there none (although there is a reference to their bishop who is in prison for trying to put a pretender on the throne (Perkin Warbeck had first claimed the English throne in 1490).A man disappears, presumed drowned – but how and why did he die? Oakham, an impoverished village is isolated, cut off from the surrounding villages and from the monks at the abbey in Bruton by the river with its bends and oxbows, and the long woody ridge to the north-east edge of the village. There are no outsiders.I thought the way Samantha Harvey reveals how Thomas Newman died telling the story moving back day by day to the day of his death was very effective, although at first I was a bit puzzled. By the end – that is – on the day Thomas Newman disappeared – we know so much about him and his neighbours, mainly through the confessions they made to the narrator, John Reve, the village priest. And the sequence of events, the why and the how are revealed.The people are superstitious, living in fear of the whims and punishments of God and taking everything as a warning. Reve tries to reassure them that the creatures they fear, such as wolf-men and grotesque sea creatures don’t exist, but that there are ill spirits to test us and strengthen us; that what we call good or bad luck are spirits, that live in the air or in the water and that we can conquer them. Reve prays for a sign that Newman was on his way through purgatory safely to heaven. The wind is blowing from the east, a strong and bitter wind, so he prays for a wind from the west to blow the ill spirits away.This is in some ways an allegorical tale, with the characters standing for symbolical figures, and events as symbols of change. Hence there is Newman, a relative newcomer to the village the bringer of change as he gradually bought land off Townshend, the lord of the manor, now impoverished. Does this make him a suspect for Newman’s death?The monks, who it is said are keen to buy the village land, also foreshadow the changes that are to come in the next half century or so. Reve, the priest (my Local Historian’s Encyclopedia tells me a reeve was usually a man of villein status who organised the daily business of the manor) is concerned that people are no longer coming to him for confession but paying a travelling friar, who didn’t know them, for a confession incognito. The people are losing their faith in God.I loved other details, setting the book in the 1490s – the techniques of bridge building, the traditional games such as ‘campball’ (the precursor of football) played by all the young men of the parish with a pig’s bladder up and down the village road, the cock-fighting, the food and drink – spiced beer and metheglin (a variety of mead), giving out the sweetness of honey, and the music – the tinkling of tambourines, pipes and drumming on goat-hide.I came to the end of this book and immediately wanted to start it again. What seems at first to be a simple tale is actually a multi-layered and complex book. I really enjoyed reading it.
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  • Mandy
    January 1, 1970
    I found this medieval murder mystery a bit hard to get into, but once I did I become absorbed and found it a compelling and thought-provoking read. Atmospheric, masterfully evocative of life in a small village in 1491, just pre-Reformation, and with a new-fangled “confessional” recently brought in by the parish priest, the sympathetic John Reve, the story evolves backwards gradually over 4 days. When the richest man in the area, Thomas Newman, drowns and his body is swept away, it falls to Reve I found this medieval murder mystery a bit hard to get into, but once I did I become absorbed and found it a compelling and thought-provoking read. Atmospheric, masterfully evocative of life in a small village in 1491, just pre-Reformation, and with a new-fangled “confessional” recently brought in by the parish priest, the sympathetic John Reve, the story evolves backwards gradually over 4 days. When the richest man in the area, Thomas Newman, drowns and his body is swept away, it falls to Reve to discover what really happened and who, if anyone is to blame. Or was it perhaps suicide? The pressure on him to unravel the mystery grows, not helped by the arrival of the rural dean who wants answers. Much of the novel takes place in the new confession box, a useful and effective literary device. As I became more and more involved in the characters’ lives, I naturally wanted some sort of resolution but unfortunately that never really came, and I found that rather frustrating. Nevertheless, I did enjoy it and particularly appreciated this glimpse, if only for a short time, into an alien world world of superstition, faith and ignorance of the wider world.
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  • Mary Higginson
    January 1, 1970
    A historical novel with a difference. Set in 15th Century England and narrated by Reve, a priest the story proceeds at a slow burn reflecting the time in which it is set.We follow Reve's progress and are privy to his thoughts as he meanders through daily life trying to solve the mystery of Newman's death while ministering to his flock. The reader shares his observations and hears confessions alongside him. Through him the medieval psyche is revealed with its mix of faith and superstition. We are A historical novel with a difference. Set in 15th Century England and narrated by Reve, a priest the story proceeds at a slow burn reflecting the time in which it is set.We follow Reve's progress and are privy to his thoughts as he meanders through daily life trying to solve the mystery of Newman's death while ministering to his flock. The reader shares his observations and hears confessions alongside him. Through him the medieval psyche is revealed with its mix of faith and superstition. We are shown human nature in all its manifestations. The frailties, the pettiness, the meanness of spirit but also the good and the thoughtful in the souls of men are exposed in this novel. Harvey is careful to depict the both pace and the hardships of life giving the novel a sense of authenticity.For the lover of historical fiction this is a little gem. Harvey successfully weaves a good murder mystery with an insight into the ways of thinking and life of the time.
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  • Laura Newsholme
    January 1, 1970
    There is a lot to appreciate here but similarly, there is much that left me feeling a bit frustrated. It tells the story of a death by drowning in a small village in 16th century England and the investigation that follows. The story is told over four days and the narrative goes in reverse, which is both interesting and irritating at the same time. I like the character of John Reve, the parish priest who narrates the action, and yet he makes choices and decisions that only seem relevant in terms There is a lot to appreciate here but similarly, there is much that left me feeling a bit frustrated. It tells the story of a death by drowning in a small village in 16th century England and the investigation that follows. The story is told over four days and the narrative goes in reverse, which is both interesting and irritating at the same time. I like the character of John Reve, the parish priest who narrates the action, and yet he makes choices and decisions that only seem relevant in terms of plotting and don't really ring true for his characterisation. Similarly, I loved a lot of the details of village life that emerge from the narrative and yet I felt that there were plenty of occasions where the observations were repetitive and kind of unnecessary. All in all, this is a pretty middle of the road book, in my opinion.I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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  • John
    January 1, 1970
    You know when something moves so slowly it actually seems to be going backwards? The Western Wind is achingly slow, but its backwards motion is intentional. From the discovery of a body we follow the crime back one day at a time to when it was committed - or, as the protagonist Father John Reve has it, ‘Not where you washed up, but the waves that washed you there.’ That’s just one example of Samantha Harvey’s lovely writing, which is the real joy here, because if you’re expecting a Cadfael-style You know when something moves so slowly it actually seems to be going backwards? The Western Wind is achingly slow, but its backwards motion is intentional. From the discovery of a body we follow the crime back one day at a time to when it was committed - or, as the protagonist Father John Reve has it, ‘Not where you washed up, but the waves that washed you there.’ That’s just one example of Samantha Harvey’s lovely writing, which is the real joy here, because if you’re expecting a Cadfael-style medieval whodunnit you’ll be disappointed. Reve’s revelations are of a more spiritual kind. How do you justify right and wrong in the context of your faith? This starts to get a bit repetitive, but Harvey has masterfully created such a believable world the conclusions are worth waiting for.
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  • Lauren LaTulip
    January 1, 1970
    A fabulous mystery and historical novel. Set during the chaotic days before Lent, a disappearance in a small English village is investigated by the priest and his regional superior. Layers upon layers unfold as the days peel back and villagers show up for confession.Harvey's lyrical writing about the natural world is married to a strong reverse chronology and the pace of a murder mystery to excellent effect. The Western Wind is beautifully written and attention holding, a thriller about mortalit A fabulous mystery and historical novel. Set during the chaotic days before Lent, a disappearance in a small English village is investigated by the priest and his regional superior. Layers upon layers unfold as the days peel back and villagers show up for confession.Harvey's lyrical writing about the natural world is married to a strong reverse chronology and the pace of a murder mystery to excellent effect. The Western Wind is beautifully written and attention holding, a thriller about mortality, love and religion. My first thoughts of of Harvest by Crace and The Name of the Rose by Eco were overwritten - this novel is by original and strong.
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  • Claire Madigan
    January 1, 1970
    Old World Misery at its Finest.Wonderful characters built with rich, evocative, suitably oldie language. Full of subtle, clever humour and a million forgotten observances of the pre-lent Middle Ages church that just seem absolutely nuts now. It's a very different book, structured in a way which makes it almost essential that you read it again. If you like historical fiction, read this book and you'll be knee deep in mud, soaked and cold from a misty, smokey rain and you'll swear you have a fever Old World Misery at its Finest.Wonderful characters built with rich, evocative, suitably oldie language. Full of subtle, clever humour and a million forgotten observances of the pre-lent Middle Ages church that just seem absolutely nuts now. It's a very different book, structured in a way which makes it almost essential that you read it again. If you like historical fiction, read this book and you'll be knee deep in mud, soaked and cold from a misty, smokey rain and you'll swear you have a fever. Great stuff!
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  • Joanna Halpin
    January 1, 1970
    Clever, wonderful book. Harvey's descriptive language is dark and delightful. the structure of the book is not only smart, but oddly seamless. The confession scenes are beautiful, funny, heartbreaking. The chapter about eating a goose, might be one of the greatest chapters in a book ever.I'd like this to get a Booker nomination . It's one of those sneaky thunderstorms of a novel. I loved it.
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  • Moray Teale
    January 1, 1970
    Easter is drawing close in the rural village of Oakham in the fifteenth-century. The settlement is isolated by the river and attempts to increase prosperity by connecting it to the outside world have faltered after plans to build a bridge fall through. And in the aftermath of the collapse Thomas Newman, the wealthiest man in the village, is swept away and drowned. But how did Newman end in the river? The local Dean is suspicious and determined to put someone to the flame for murder while John Re Easter is drawing close in the rural village of Oakham in the fifteenth-century. The settlement is isolated by the river and attempts to increase prosperity by connecting it to the outside world have faltered after plans to build a bridge fall through. And in the aftermath of the collapse Thomas Newman, the wealthiest man in the village, is swept away and drowned. But how did Newman end in the river? The local Dean is suspicious and determined to put someone to the flame for murder while John Reve, the parish priest, discovers pieces of the truth through conversation and confession and is equally desperate to see an accident and to protect his parishioners from his superior’s zeal.The wonderfully complex and original structure definitely contributes so much to the enjoyment of reading and the freshness of the narrative. The backwards flow creates something utterly compelling. The puzzle of characters and relationships are deftly unravelled as the story draws slowly full circle, constantly changing as new revelations and earlier events shed surprising lights on things that had gone before. It is quite a feat to keep everything so firmly connected and stable and to build such anticipation in a backwards-told story and Harvey manages to maintain the tension and anticipation while perfectly preserving the internal logic of the story.The lynchpin of the story and the community is Reve himself, it is through him that the different facets of the narrative are revealed and his confessional (possibly the first in England) is the place that secrets are unearthed and lies told and uncovered. Reve’s commitment to his flock is paramount and while he struggles to protect them he also wrestles with a personal crisis of faith, with Harvey subtly probing the relationship between the social and the religious role of the clergy at a time when they were often the spoke around which their communities revolved. The dead man Newman is equally crucial though we only meet him through recollection and the nature of his character is as important a mystery as his death. It is revealed slowly and piecemeal and as it changes, constructed by the memories and confessions of his neighbours, it moulds the story around it in quite unexpected ways.The Western Wind is an evocative tale of conscience, guilt, desire, and the struggles between religion and superstition, the body and flesh. Harvey builds her characters around these universal pressures which continue to shape lives even today. As much as things change, so much they stay the same. Her people may be struggling with a reality quite different from our own (or at least from my own) but their thoughts, loves and fears are a recognisable and prescient today as they were five hundred years ago.
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  • Jamie
    January 1, 1970
    a masterpiece.
  • Ryan
    January 1, 1970
    Wonderful. New to Samantha Harvey, but enjoyed the writing immensely. Evocative, emotional and haunting - highly recommended.
  • Joseph
    January 1, 1970
    The Year of Our Lord, 1491. The hundred-or-so villagers of Oakham, in rural Somerset, are celebrating the raucous days of Carnival. This year, however, a tragic occurrence has cast a pall over the revelry. Thomas Newman has disappeared, likely carried away by the churning waters of the river which cuts of the village from the rest of the world. Newman was a relative newcomer to Oakham, having settled there upon the death of his wife and daughter. However, thanks to his financial clout, he acquir The Year of Our Lord, 1491. The hundred-or-so villagers of Oakham, in rural Somerset, are celebrating the raucous days of Carnival. This year, however, a tragic occurrence has cast a pall over the revelry. Thomas Newman has disappeared, likely carried away by the churning waters of the river which cuts of the village from the rest of the world. Newman was a relative newcomer to Oakham, having settled there upon the death of his wife and daughter. However, thanks to his financial clout, he acquired much of the surrounding land, meaning that most of the villagers depend upon him for their living. Moreover, despite his unorthodox ideas, he is considered a person bearing moral authority. His sudden death – whether accidental, murder or suicide – can only bring bad tidings to Oakham. Especially since the rural dean has descended on the village to investigate, and there are rumblings of monks setting their sights on Oakham’s fields.Reading a skeletal outline of the plot, you’d be forgiven for expecting “The Western Wind” to be another “medieval crime novel”. But this is s so much more than a “cozy historical mystery”. It is narrated by the village priest, John Reve, who as the repository of Oakham’s secrets, is the closest we get to a detective figure. Interestingly, Reve reveals more about himself than about the villagers – indeed, on one level, this novel could be read as a book-length character study of Reve. He comes across as a person with a mission, one who considers himself as chosen by God, but is torn by feelings of inadequacy. It seems that he is being continuously being weighed (including in a literal sense) and found wanting – whether by his flock, by his ecclesiastical superiors or by God himself. The 'western wind' becomes the metaphor for the deliverance for which Reve prays, to no avail.A particular characteristic of the novel is the narrative timeline which, in a structure worthy of a Christopher Nolan movie, moves backwards from Shrove Tuesday to the Saturday before. It is a deliberately confusing ploy which leaves the reader feeling thrown into the deep end, much like Newman’s fatal dive into the river. But it’s a brilliant move – as it effectively evokes the feeling of loss and incomprehension shared by the villagers of Oakham.Early readers have praised the novel’s historical accuracy. I do not have enough knowledge of the period to comment about this. However, I did find some aspects of the novel unconvincing. What disturbed me most is the fact that Reve, who otherwise comes across as quite a decent and dedicated priest, displays an uncharacteristically cavalier attitude towards the secret of confession. By the time the events in the novel take place, the gravity of a breach of the “seal of confession” had been established for centuries, with severe canonical and spiritual consequences for whoever went against this strict rule. Yet, Reve lightly discusses penitents’ confessions with his superiors without any feeling of compunction or fear of worldly or otherworldly punishment.Another slightly puzzling point is that, apart from the “confessions” which are central to the plot, and apart from his ruminations about whether he is a “good enough” shepherd of the Oakham flock, Reve rarely seems to discuss theology, and religious rites, rituals and prayers. Indeed, despite the narrator being a priest and in spite of the fact that the novel touches upon subjects such as faith and superstition, I wouldn’t classify this as a “religious” novel, and it does not delve into the type of theological discourse you will find in novels such as The Diary of a Country Priest, Gilead or, for that matter, the recent Fire Sermon.Then again, the feeling I got was that the primary concern of the novel is neither religious nor historical. What the Western Wind gives us instead is a complete immersion into the world conjured by the author. The novel creates an almost physical sense of oppression, of damp, of fetid air; of a sense of poverty and sickness; of helplessness the face of impending, catastrophic, change. What counts at the end of the day is not strict historical accuracy - just as the narrative style sounds convincingly “archaic”, without necessarily accurately mimicking 15th century parlance, the novel definitely delivers a sense of “authenticity”.
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