As an evocation of place and a lost way of life, Harrison’s novel is astonishing, as potent and irresistible as a magic spell. Barely out of childhood, Edie sees as a child sees, thoroughly, without judgement or sentiment...Edie is a beguiling narrator, reminiscent of Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle, but not enough happens to her to keep the pace from stumbling. And because Edie cares little for politics or the world beyond her village, the dark underbelly of the novel is underplayed. In At Hawthorn Time, the threat of catastrophe stalked the pages; here the looming menace of fascism remains more theoretical than felt.
Harrison is adept at making several realities exist uncannily alongside one another. She conjures up nature, with its timeless rhythms and beauty, and invades it with the political, felt in the ‘army of men missing from the fields and farms’ and in Constance’s fascist ideas. Similarly, the novel is told from Edie’s perspective, her girlish naivety turning to conviction about her witchcraft, while being cleverly undermined with the matter-of-fact way that Edie’s family and neighbours see the world... This accomplished novel explores many things; perhaps above all it is an argument about the danger of solipsism, and a demonstration of what tragedies might occur if one cannot escape a narrow viewpoint to consider the wider picture.
All Among the Barley, Melissa Harrison’s third novel, is a deeply atmospheric work, steeped in the rhythms and traditions of the English countryside and the rhythms and traditions of its literature. Its texture — dense, hypnotic and beautifully rendered — is oddly daring. The fusing of ancient natural cycles and farming techniques with powerfully descriptive prose and rich characterisation feels luxuriant on the page. To this highly urban reader who smiled recently on hearing nature summed up as “what you get between the doorman and the taxi”, All Among the Barley evoked the boundlessness of the land as well as its more exacting qualities with brio and verve.