The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey
Glad I stayed with it. ****
I almost gave up on this book as initially it moved too slowly for me but I'm glad that I stayed with it and almost wish it hadn't finished. The story unfolds in 15th century Oakham, a village backwater in Somerset. Its central character is a priest, John Reve who narrates the story in reverse chronological order about a wealthy parishioner, Thomas Newman, who has been swept away to his death in a nearby river. I wondered about the unusual chronological device and the reason for it becomes clear in the final chapter. I found myself going back to the beginning to try to ascertain the ending!
Much of the story takes place in the village church and particularly in the new confessional booth that has been constructed there. Parishioners confess litanies of sins in the run up to Lent but will anyone confess to the killing of Newman? It becomes clear that the priest John Reve has a secret of his own, something he does not dare to admit or confess to his own superior, a local Dean who has been summoned to the village to investigate the mysterious death.
The Dean is an ominous presence and Reve's feelings toward him ebb and flow in a gentle exploration of the nature of authority. I didn't much care for the Dean but felt that Reve, despite his flaws, became more likeable.
I also liked very much the many descriptive passages and turns of phrase, stopping every now and then to go back over them and reflect on the point being made. And this then was for me the ultimate appeal of the work, its saving grace. It developed a meditative quality, a kind of examination of conscience and an exploration of guilt.
Glad I stayed with it.
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