The Western Wind

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 13 Nov 2018

Member Reviews

Huge thanks to Netgalley and Grove Press for giving me a free copy of this book.

Set in a secluded village in 1491, this skillfully crafted novel discusses how not everything is as it seems, and the interesting aspects of a church at that time. The story sets off on the fourth day of the eventful disappearance and death of one of the wealthiest and well-loved man in the village, Tom Newman. Our main character is John Reves, the only priest in the village, and through him hearing the villagers' confessions in the confession box we slowly go back in time to find out what actually happened to Tom Newman and alongside that, the lives of the villagers who were intertwined with him.

To say that this novel is a mystery is incorrect. I made the mistake of expecting a big, unexpected ending from slow buildups (from the future?) or slight hints throughout the book, like a regular mystery novel. However it is more suitable to be categorized as a literary fiction, a character (or a group of characters) study, historical fiction than mystery. The death of Newman is the underlying plot, but we also focus a lot on Reves and his relationship with his disciples, and also particularly his conflict with the dean and himself.

What I absolutely loved about this book is the writing. Harvey definitely knows how to write, with beautiful words and gorgeous imagery, capturing these short four days into something engaging, as you can really feel the cold, the rain, the frustration, the castration feel of the village. I loved the snippets of the past and present, of reading Reves's mind and how she describes the setting.

I also really liked our main character Reves. He is unique, and we learn so much about him that you just can't help but really feel for him. His friendship with the villagers are important and a huge part of the story, and you can definitely tell how Harvey spent a lot of time carving out these characters in the village.

Of course the fact that the entire story is written in a reverse plot is also very interesting. It changes all the priority, context, and subtext much more intriguing, and Harvey managed to execute it wonderfully. I think I speak for a lot of us when we say that after finishing the book you really want to reread it again to find out what we missed.

Overall, interesting characters and wonderful story, incredible craft writing style and plot wise. However this book didn't really astound me or wow me, it's slow, but a little too slow and at times I am reluctant to pick it up. It's not very incredible or groundbreaking in terms of the topic or the mystery, and all in all I wasn't much in love with it, unfortunately.
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I didn't enjoy this as much as I did The Wildnerness - I found it difficult to get into and the prose was not quite as engaging.  The flow was a bit off given the timeline and at times the pace was too slow.  Just okay.
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Not a book for me unfortunately. It’s a well thought out story and setting but I think that someone who appreciates medieval settings and historical dramas will really enjoy this book.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin books for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.  The language in this book is poetic and lyrical and I really enjoyed reading parts of it aloud.  Having said that, I think it needed to have more structure in the sense that the story kept jumping about and I couldn't get a sense of the characters, least of all the narrator.
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I didn't connect with this book as I had hoped when I initially read the blurb on it. The premise  (man dies under mysterious circumstances) sounded intriguing and it made me want to find out more, but once I got a few chapters in, I didn't care about any of the characters or what was going on. I think this one just wasn't for me. *Advance copy provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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The Western Wind is a rich story using the framework of 15th century England as its setting. John Reve is the priest of a small town, and we observe events in the days immediately before Lent. 

When the richest villager dies, the priest and the dean are seeking out whether it was accidental or, if not, whether he was murdered or committed suicide. The story is told in reverse order - the first chapter is Day 4: Shrove Tuesday, the next chapter is Day 3, and so on. Even the chapter's sub-headings are mirror opposites. This technique suited the storytelling well. We gain more insight as we read the preceding day, filling in the blanks or unknowns that were mentioned in passing.

Due to the timing of the church calendar, as well as an offer of a pardon, we are witnessing the priest hearing confessions in each section, and through his words and actions, it's evident he dearly loves his village and wants to do what is best for them. I found the lists of confessions at times amusing, provocative, or heartbreaking: 

"Father, I slept all day, I cut a hole in a wall to spy on a woman, I shovelled some of my no-good-clay onto my neighbour's plot, I stole the last spoonful of honey instead of offering it to my husband, I ate the lucky egg, I cursed my father, I swore, I snored, I farted, I doubted."

This is a well-written, thoughtful book that takes on themes of guilt, forgiveness, grief, and secrecy. When you finish, you will be tempted to read it again, this time in reverse (and, thus, in chronological) order and find someone to process it with you. It's a beautiful read.

(I received a digital ARC from Grove Atlantic via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.)
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The book is a beautiful account from the perspective of a priest who explains what happens to the man who disappeared in the town. But everyone has secrets. Is he telling the truth?
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I really enjoyed this one - a brilliant historical fiction with a really interesting structure (it works backwards in time). The explorations of morality and religion were very well done, as are each of the characters. I would highly recommend.
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A good mystery read that keeps you guessing till the end. I would have liked more character development but it's definitely worth a read
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In love with this story and its reverse telling, from day 4, to day 3, etc. Found the humor a breath of fresh air for the  middle ages setting and dreary, wet slum-like village. Incredible characters, all given their own space and details to evolve and become their own person to the reader. Very likable, very believable, very satisfying. Already recommending it.
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I am not sure my comment is in place, as I have had no time to read  the whole story. But I like it, The Western Wind, by Samantha Harvey should be read  and particularly when all the world seems 'far and busy' and one chooses to care for his/her own wellbeing. Thanks for the allowance, anyway.
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Fierce and fresh and deeply original, with a wonderfully nuanced cast of characters and a powerful emotional heartbeat.
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Although this book was well written and convincingly atmospheric, I was ultimately disappointed.

The story is told backwards over the course of four days.  John Reve, the parish priest has a confession to make about the death of Thomas Newman, late of his parish.  He is guilty of so much, and perhaps most of that guilt comes from his belief that he should be “more than a man”, really "part angel, part man”.  The complicated stories of the parish, under the uncompromising stare of the rural dean, who has come to investigate the death, (and probably sell off the assets of the dead man) are medeival in their conglomeration of superstition, belief, guilt and a host of other human “sins”.

In the end, the story is left hanging.  Not a mystery, not a historical novel, but perhaps a novel about the loss of faith in a world with only faith as a watchword?
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This is a character study type of book, both the individuals - the priest John Reve, the dead man Thomas Newman, the pedantic rural dean; and the collective - Oakham’s wayward parishioners. “The Western Wind” is also incredibly atmospheric: all that rain, fog and mud reminded me of Aleksei German’s imagery for “Hard to Be a God.”  

Set in the 15th century, the story is narrated backwards, from Day 4 (Shrove Tuesday, 17th February) to Day 1 (Shrove Saturday, 14th February), when, in the early hours, the news that the wealthiest man in the village had been swept away by the river reached John Reve and the rest of his parishioners. 

This is a slow burn and you wouldn’t think that this kind of structure - made up of half-disclosed confessions, secrets, and other digressions - would work well enough to keep you engaged, but it’s so cleverly done that you soon become invested in these characters, particularly John Reve, who I think became one of my favourite narrators in a historical novel. John’s little ironies and musings, his own acknowledged sins and weaknesses make him a likeable character.

I loved the subtle humour in the way the priest imagines Oakham seen through the rural dean’s eyes and how he seems to cherish his little village even more, in spite of it all. The pestilent rural dean was utterly unlikable, but a welcome balance for John. He is an outsider, who disturbs the peace of Oakham, set on finding (if not fashioning) a culprit for Newman’s death. 

The prose style clicked with me from the start: this is a literary historical novel with a mystery twist, and I absolutely lived for it!
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In a small medieval village in England, a priest narrates his story backwards, allowing the reader to linger on simple words and constructions that slowly reveal the story as a whole. A man has died. But how, and why? And 
 who surrounds the man, and the priest, in the village? Who is touched and touched by this tale? Harvey's language is ravishing and spare and evocative and perfect for the ekphrasis of this novel. Balancing between narrative and description and prose poetry and incorporating the everyday misery and joy of life, this novel is one to savor and treasure and teach and share.
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A strangely compelling story set in fifteenth century England, in a small remote village, cut off from most of society by a river which as yet does not have a bridge. In the early hours of Shrove Saturday, the wealthiest man in the village is swept away by the turbulent waters, and the questions begin,- accident, murder or suicide? 
in a reverse chronology, told from the perspective of the village priest, Reve, we learn much about the inhabitants of the village, their fears and faith, and their superstitions , and eventually we learn the truth about the tragedy. 
In the pages of this book, the author has created a self contained world, populated by richly crafted and well realised characters, none more so than the narrator John Reve. The prose style is dense, but lushly so, rich and earthy as the soil of Oakham itself. As a reader I found myself transported back in time, and lost in the world she had created. 
I read and reviewed an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, all opinions are my own.
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Set in a remote village in the late 15the century the book explores themes like confession, trust and guilt. Unfortunately, the execution didn't really convince me.
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This book was not for me. Deathly slow. I didn't care about any of the characters. It's set in the 15th century in a small town that's very isolated. It unravels how a man died.
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Told in reverse timeline over a period of four days through confessions to a priest, this is more the story of a small village than a mystery.  It's set in 1491 and, to be fair, it's not really accurate from a historical aspect but it does have terrific atmosphere.  John Reve, the priest, is an intriguing character, willing to both listen to and argue with his parishioners as they unwind.  The dead man, Thomas Newman, incited strong feelings and while you think you know what happened, the fullness of the story is not clear until the end.  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.  Good writing and an interesting plot device made this a well done read.
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Even if it could be classified as historical mystery there is much more in this book.
First of all it's a wonderful book, one those book you read slowly, savouring the style of writing and the development of characters.
I read somewhere that there are some historical inaccuracies but that's something that has no meaning in such a complex and enthralling work.
It was my first book by this writer but it surely won't be the last as I was fascinated by this atmospheric and engaging work.
It's one of those book that helps you rediscover the pleasure of reading a well written and complex book.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to Grove Atlantic and Netgalley for this ARC
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