All Among The Barley: a review

all-among-the-barley

When it comes to evoking the natural world and capturing the sense of a superstitious, rural community on the verge of disappearing after the First World War, Melissa Harrison is a very fine writer. For the first half of All Among The Barley it was like watching paint slowly drying, albeit a very beautiful paint from Farrow and Ball; and that’s not to say it’s a bad thing, just that there is often little sense of plot and (apart from the main protagonist) some of the characters have been picked straight from central casting. There are shades of Hardy here, even down to burning ricks and a rape scene reminiscent of poor Tessa Durbeyfield, as well as a very Hardyesque sense of dark brooding and foreboding. And yet… half way through everything gains pace and the hints of forces at work are substantiated and brought out into the open: one character really is the violent drunk we’d suspected and another an out-and-out fascist. Topical questions are raised about how communities deal with those who are different (migrant workers) and how easy it is to be influenced by the politically astute (Farage and Johnson).

Ultimately, this is an enjoyable story of the loss of innocence in a vanishing world brought to life by a writer with painterly gifts.