The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey
Published in: 2019
Reviewed by: Book Worm
This ARC was provided by Vintage Penguin Random House UK (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
Book Worm’s Thoughts: I have seen a lot of reviews that criticise this book for the lack of historical accuracy however as I had no idea about the Church in this time period these inaccuracies didn’t bother me. That said I can understand why other readers would find this frustrating especially as the majority of the story relates to confession within a confessional box which wasn’t even invented in the time period covered by the story.
This is a slow paced character driven medieval murder mystery the twist in this particular story is that we start at the end knowing who the dead man is and with 2 different confessions on the table we then work backwords for 4 days to the point where the dead man enters the river and drowns. Each day we learn more about the parish priest and his parishioners through their confessions most of which are as insignificant as “I overslept” however some confessions reveal a secret undercurrent to village affairs. Ever present are the signs of pagan superstitions that have not yet been conquered by the church and that add a touch of colour to the narrative.
The village and the river are very much a part of the narrative and it is in the way the author presents her characters against this backdrop that make this a compelling (if slow moving) story. The village and church politics make for interesting reading and I enjoyed seeing how things could be viewed from various viewpoints.
John Reve is an excellent character and I loved spending time with him, learning about his world views and what he would do to protect his parishioners. It was interesting watching him struggle with changes in the village and with his own faith. John Reve is a priest who is very human his life is lived in shades of grey and not everything he does would be sanctioned by the Church which is so much a part of his life.
“there was no cure for a young man’s desire except to become an old man, and even that wasn’t a cure that could be guaranteed.”
“Now here we were, besieged by a rural dean who , I’d slowly come to realise, was too intent on saving us wholly to care for the fate of any one of us singly.”
“No I might have answered – I cannot fully trust God.”
Who would enjoy this? I would recommend this to those who are not bothered by inaccuracies in their historical fiction, who like character not plot driven stories and those who like snooping into the hidden life of an English village that is cut-off from the rest of the world.
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