My hero / Jim Crace by Daniel Hahn


Mystifying control … Jim Crace. Photograph: Matt Writtle

My hero: 

Jim Crace

 by Daniel Hahn

Jim Crace is a genius. I have read Harvest, which has just won the Impac prize, three times – and I still don’t know how he does it

Saturday 20 June 2015


’m currently on a translators’ residency, where one of our recurring dinnertime arguments is about whether genius exists, and if so, what it is. To some, it describes an ability, a gift, that is not merely above average but is somehow beyond comprehension; not just considerable skill, but inexplicable skill. If that definition holds, then Jim Crace, I think, is a genius. His 10th novel, Harvest – a small story about great change – has just won the 2015 Impac Dublin award; as one of the judges I’ve now read it three times, and I still don’t know how he does it. (Yes, I know “genius” sounds silly, but “magic” sounds even sillier.)

Crace announced in 2013 that Harvest would be his last novel. And what a way to go. It is an allegorical tale, but feels immediate and sharply detailed, not remote; it’s on a tiny scale (a week in a nameless English village community, once upon a time) but seems potent and important; and it creates a narrator – the isolated widower Walter Thirsk – with a slightly archaic but spellbinding voice. Thirsk is a private man confiding only to us, an extraordinary fusion of the vitality of oral storytelling with the fine craft of literary writing.

Those of us who don’t really believe in magic know that things like “voice” are formed of prosaic (if hugely complex) sums of syllables, breaths, stresses, vowels, commas; but I can’t think of a writer who manages these things with greater and more mystifying control. Harvest shows the rhythmic precision and poise you’d expect from poetry, but entirely without loftiness or pretension, and the story it tells is dark, pained, visceral, gripping.

The Impac award recognises, rather belatedly, those qualities we Crace fans have seen in his novels many times before. And the best news of all: his acceptance speech revealed that he’s changed his mind, and there is another book on the way.


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