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All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison - Review

Saturday, January 23, 2021


This was my first book of the year and I have to say, it set the standard quite high! If this is what all books in 2021 are going to be like, I'm in for a good year!

This was also the first book club book of the year. My book club is based in Penistone, nearby, and we usually meet monthly in a pub there. Obviously, that hasn't been possible, so we've been meeting online since last March and seem set to do that for the foreseeable future, especially as some of our members are older. It also means an ex member who is living in Germany can join us, so that's been nice too. It's worked well, actually. This book was chosen by Margaret. I've mentioned her before as she always chooses books that I would never have picked up by myself but end up loving. I now want everyone I know to read this, and have bought Harrison's other two books too. 

So this book is set in 1933 in Suffolk, and the main character is Edith, who is fourteen and was born just after the end of the Great War. She lives on a farm with her parents, her brother Frank, and two farmhands, John and Doble. Her blind grandfather, who used to own the farm, lives there too. Edith's elder sister Mary is now married and lives a couple of miles away and has a baby, Terrence. Edith's maternal grandparents also live nearby. 

A woman called Constance turns up one day at the farm. She's in the village researching English rural life, and is keen to speak to all the members of the family. She's interested in the old ways, in the folklore and traditions. Edith and she start a friendship and Edith becomes infatuated with her. However, not everyone likes her, and eventually her true colours show through and things errupt. 

Meanwhile, Edith is caught in the place between childhood and adulthood. She's just left school and has been encouraged to become a governess or something, but she doesn't like children, so doesn't want to. Plus, her mother seems to want her to stay at home, something her siblings sort of mock her about. There's a neighbouring farm belonging to the Roses, and sometime the sons, Sid and Alfie, come to help on Edith's farm. Alf Rose sexually assaults Edith quite often, and everyone assumes the two are walking out together. But Edith doesn't like him and tries to avoid him. 

There's also more going on with her father, who drinks a lot. There's a lot of hidden stuff in the book, hidden under the almost genteel veneer of farming. Edith's mental health begins to suffer and she sees things that aren't real. The book sort of runs like a stream for around 3/4 of the way through, and then everything crashes together.

I absolutely loved it. I loved Edith as a main character and wanted her to succeed despite everything piling on top of her. There's a lot of things that I thought, like whether her mother was having an affair with John, that I didn't need to fully understand the outcome of. I loved the writing, I am giving this five out of five and highly recommend it! 

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