'The autumn of 1933 is the most beautiful Edie Mather can remember, although the Great War still casts its shadow over the fields and villages around her beloved home, Wych Farm.
Constance FitzAllen arrives from London to document fading rural traditions and beliefs. For Edie, who must soon face the unsettling pressures of adulthood, the glamorous and worldly outsider appears to be a godsend. But there is more to the older woman than meets the eye.
As harvest time approaches and pressures mount on the entire community, Edie must find a way to trust her instincts and save herself from disaster.'
I'd better start by saying straight off that I seem to be one of the few people who didn't fall head over heals in love with this book. I loved Melissa Harrison's previous novel - At Hawthorn Time - partly I suspect because it represented the countryside in a 'warts and all' way. It wasn't shown as a pastoral idyll but as a place of work, with many ugly sides to it - from road kill to the destruction of landscape.
With All Among the Barley it feels like Harrison has swung the other way - to a view of the Suffolk countryside seen through rose-tinted glasses, and it just didn't grab me. Teenage narrator Edith certainly sees it this way, waxing lyrical over fruit laden hedges, with descriptions of nature and landscape just too overdone and fulsome. For a fourteen year old (my mother, born roughly the same time, commuted from her village into town to work in a factory at 14) Edith seems remarkable naive - of the grimmer aspects of farming, her father's associated drinking and rages, and the world outside the narrow confines of her village. Gradually though I began to see Edith as unreliable, neither as clever as she purports to be nor possessed of the special powers she claims. So should the reader see her pastoral idyll as equally fake? Is most of her tale just a hankering for a world that never existed? On the other hand, every review I've read seems to have taken Edith at face value, so I appear to be the odd one out here.
Publisher - Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre - adult fiction