The Western Wind

Oakham, near Bruton, is a tiny village by a big river without a 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 murder, or suicide, or an accident? The whole story is relayed by the village priest, John Reve, who in his role as confessor is privy to a lot of information that others do not have. But will he be able to explain what happened to the victim, Tom Newman, the wealthiest, most capable man in the village? And what will happen if he can’t?

The Western Wind is set in 1491, and is told backwards over the four days of Shrovetide, as we witness Reve’s struggle to bring clarity to the events that caused Newman’s death.


‘The truly extraordinary thing about this novel is the way Harvey recreates the mindset and beliefs of the medieval world, and makes the concerns of 500 years ago vivid and immediate . . . It is quite unlike anything I have read.’ THE BOOKSELLER


‘One of the UK’s most exquisite stylists.’ THE GUARDIAN


‘Harvey’s is a story of suspense, yes. It is a story of a community crowded with shadows and secrets. But to read this novel is to experience a kind of catharsis. In John Reve, a 15th-century priest at war with his instincts and inclinations and at times even with his own flock, we find a kind of Everyman, and Harvey delivers a singular character at once completely unfamiliar and wholly universal.’ THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW


‘[A] rich and sumptuous delight. At the micro-level of the individual sentences, the language manages to be both luminously lyrical and endlessly sharp. […] On the wider historical level, the compelling portrait of that medieval world is given added poignancy by the distant drumbeat of the Reformation – and with it, a reminder that it’s a world far more precarious than anybody in it could possibly have imagined. […] And, in the end, for all its many other qualities – including the more traditional satisfactions of pace and plotting – it’s perhaps as a character study that The Western Wind works most triumphantly, with Reve’s spectacularly mixed motives impeccably delineated. […] [E]ven the most glowing reviews of [Harvey’s] work have tended to be accompanied by a rueful acknowledgement of how underrated she is. The Western Wind will surely mean that she’s not underrated any more.’ THE TELEGRAPH


‘The Western Wind must be in the running for one of the year’s best novels.’ THE SPECTATOR


‘[W]hile Samantha Harvey’s fourth novel is on the surface a medieval whodunit, it is also a fine character study, and a brilliantly convincing evocation of both time and place. Father Reve is a wonderful creation: patient, wry, humane, riven by doubt and full of empathy for the villagers who come to his little church to confess their trivial sins. His voice is totally convincing, never slipping into caricature or cliché, and Harvey creates for him an inner life so rich and detailed that at times the experience her book engenders is less like reading a novel and more akin to time travel – something I’ve only previously encountered in the work of Hilary Mantel. And like Mantel, Harvey’s historical research is exemplary, but lightly worn: she evokes the drab, circumscribed but shifting late medieval world by telling details often related to the senses, rather than relying on historical exposition, hammy language or clumsy attempts to make strange. There is great pleasure to be had in those vertiginous moments when authentic, banal reality – what the medieval friar-philosopher Duns Scotus would have called the haecceitas, or “thisness” of the past – seems briefly to make itself known to the imagination, and The Western Wind is almost uniquely satisfying in this regard.’ THE FINANCIAL TIMES




‘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.’ THE GUARDIAN


‘Samantha Harvey’s fourth book is so ingenious in its plotting and characterisation that it begs to be read twice – the second reading a confirmation of what is slowly, tantalisingly revealed in the first . . . [Her] prose is luminous, a wonderfully lyrical look at the way religious belief and pragmatism battle it out in the heart of a good man.’ DAILY EXPRESS


‘An imposing medieval mystery about a fearful religious community in the grips of secrecy . . .  A dazzling, challenging read but one worth taking on.’ KIRKUS


A transportive meditation on faith, choice, and community . . . THE WESTERN WIND is one of the best books I’ve read this year; a sumptuous philosophical mystery with style and substance in equal measure. Read it!’ BOOKMARKS, NORTH CAROLINA


‘Told in quietly arresting prose… the narrative moves to a superbly conceived ending… Highly recommended for readers of literary and historical fiction.’ LIBRARY JOURNAL (US)


‘[T]his compulsively readable portrait of doubt and faith reveals, in small lives, humanity’s biggest questions.’ BOOKLIST STARRED REVIEW (US)

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