Harvest by Georgina Harding review – unearthing the secrets of the past

The third in Harding’s cycle of novels about the Ashe family brings wisdom and compassion to a tale set against the bleak, beautiful Norfolk landscape

Since her debut novel, The Solitude of Thomas Cave, in 2007, Georgina Harding’s fiction has ranged widely, from a 17th-century whaling boat in the Arctic to communist Romania in the 1950s. For all their differences, her books are profoundly connected, each one in its own way a meditation on survival and the aftershocks of trauma. Again and again they return to the implacability of memory, the intolerable weight of bearing witness, the struggle to build – or rebuild – a present-tense self on the ruins of the past. Like memory, they unspool in loops, the clouded silences of the present parting briefly to expose glimpses of secrets that can never be spoken, that can barely even be thought.

Harvest is the third in Harding’s cycle of novels about the Ashe family. Their very name summons aftermath, something irrevocably lost. The first, The Gun Room, tells the story of Jonathan Ashe, a young photojournalist responsible for one of the defining images of the Vietnam war. He moves to Tokyo, seeking refuge in the city’s anonymity. Instead a much older trauma begins to surface. The second, The Land of the Living, steps back 30 years to Jonathan’s father Charlie’s shattering experiences in the remote jungles of Assam during the second world war, and his struggle, as a newly married farmer after the war, to unshackle himself from their horror. In both novels place is vividly, viscerally evoked, the exotic strangeness of the Asian landscapes contrasting sharply with the windswept fields and flat wide skies of Norfolk. But while the latter is profoundly familiar to both men, that familiarity does not bring safety or peace.

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