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The Western Wind

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  3,033 ratings  ·  551 reviews
15th century Oakham, in Somerset; a tiny village cut off by a big river with no bridge. When a man is swept away by the river in the early hours of Shrove Saturday, an explanation has to be found: accident, suicide or murder? The village priest, John Reve, is privy to many secrets in his role as confessor. But will he be able to unravel what happened to the victim, Thomas ...more
Hardcover, 294 pages
Published March 1st 2018 by Jonathan Cape
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Average rating 3.43  · 
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 ·  3,033 ratings  ·  551 reviews

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Samantha Harvey writes a fascinatingly complex, intricate, challenging and multilayered medieval historical mystery set in the 15th century in the tiny, isolated, and impoverished village of Oakham in Somerset. It is 1491, and the prominent wealthy Thomas Newman, a man of ideas, is dead in the river, although it is not clear whether it is a case of accident, murder or suicide. John Reve is the local priest, knew Newman well and is tasked by his superior, the Dean, to find and punish who murdered ...more
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
This was my first look at the novelist whom Gaby Wood (the Booker Prize Foundation’s literary director) somewhat rashly labeled “this generation’s Virginia Woolf.” I wasn’t particularly convinced, although Samantha Harvey’s writing is certainly well crafted stylistically—as one might hope from someone who earns her living as a writing tutor (she teaches on an MA program in Creative Writing at Bath Spa).

Although The Western Wind is set in late fifteenth-century Somerset, Harvey isn’t a habitué of
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You know when you enjoy a book so much you want it to last as long as it can. This is what I felt with The Western Wind. Narrated by the wonderful Priest John Reve we follow a medieval hamlet and it’s in habitants after the death of one of their richest members of their community, backwards. Now this is a mystery but not a page turning one, it’s a look at the intricacies and quirks (mainly through their confessions to John) that makes you put the pieces of their lives, and where they intersect a ...more
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
I thought I had the measure of this book early on, but it kept getting better. More intricate and more profound. A strange omission from prize lists, for me.
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
A village of scrags and outcasts, Oakham, Beastville, Pigtown, Nobridge. The village that came to no good; the only village for miles around that doesn’t trade wool, doesn’t make cloth, doesn’t have the skill to build a bridge. Here’s the village we pass by, with its singing milkmaids, we call it Cheesechurn, Milkpasture, Cowudder. It’s Lord is as pudgy and spineless as the cheese he makes. Its people are vagrants that were ousted form their own villages and are in most respects desperate. It
Sep 26, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars
This is a historical novel set in 1491 in the imaginary village of Oakham in Somerset. It is a sort of whodunit (or whydunnit). The narrator is John Reve, the village priest and it is set in the four days before Ash Wednesday. The wealthiest man in the village Thomas Newman has died in the river, but was it suicide, an accident or murder? The antagonist is Reve’s superior, the Dean, who wants a reason for the death and pokes around the village being nosey and generally unpleasant. One t
Diane S ☔
Dec 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Thoughts soon.
Roman Clodia
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quiet, serious story set in 1491, the year Henry VIII was born, of conscience, guilt, desire, and the struggles between religion and superstition, the body and flesh. Harvey sets her tale in the run-up to Lent, and tells it through the voice of a village priest and confessor, privy to the secrets of his congregation but keeping his own to the last. With the machinations of church men and the shade of the nearby monastery foreshadowing events we know will come in the next 40 or so years, this i ...more
Always Pink
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mysteries
I did not like what the autor made me do: Read a story backwards, haltingly, with quite a bit of effort, trying to keep people and stories apart. Trying to make sense of what happened, trying to figure out a plot that was not unfolding itself before my eyes, but had to be searched and dug for like a hidden core or nugget of wisdom. Against the grain, against the flow, even against my will as it were - albeit the story is finely executed, alive with fully drawn characters (especially its narrator ...more
Katie Lumsden
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Maybe 4.5 stars. I really enjoyed this one - a brilliant historical fiction with a really interesting structure (it works backwards in time). The explorations of morality and religion were very well done, as are each of the characters. I would highly recommend.
Jun 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing 15th century whodunnit that is so atmospheric that you can't put it down. Beautiful language, intrigue and unusual chronology - all these kept me reading (nearly) non-stop. ...more
Apr 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: library-books
This was a strange one. The reader does have to work, it's a little bit trying. Through the middle I found it drawn out, repetitive and slow moving at times. The structure of going backwards in time day-by-day makes the middle a slog, and the end, kind of, a revelation. I've seen this book described in press reviews as a 'cozy mystery' a 'medieval whodunit' or 'murder mystery' and think these labels are utterly inaccurate. It is a character study of a man, and a town, in an era when religion hel ...more
The Year of Our Lord, 1491. The hundred-or-so villagers of Oakham, in rural Somerset, are celebrating the raucous days of Carnival. This year, however, a tragic occurrence has cast a pall over the revelry. Thomas Newman has disappeared, likely carried away by the churning waters of the river which cuts of the village from the rest of the world. Newman was a relative newcomer to Oakham, having settled there upon the death of his wife and daughter. However, thanks to his financial clout, he acquir ...more
Nov 16, 2020 rated it liked it
2.5 Stars

This is a beautifully written and very descriptive novel, but it just did not keep my interest.

I’ve decided I have to stop signing up for literary lectures. It’s great when the book ends up being outstanding, but when said book ends up being a waste of precious reading time, it infuriates me.

The premise of this book sounded so good- a medieval mystery set in Somerset in 1491. The author starts 4 days after the fact and works backwards, to the day Thomas Newman, the richest man in the
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, tbr, bought-2018
A most beloved book, read slowly and hungrily. No, it’s not historically accurate; no, it’s not realistic. What it is is thematically precise, emotionally acute, deliberately agonising. I found the story of the death of Thomas Newman and the slow unravelling of the community he leaves behind absolutely essential; and the character of John Reve carries it all. Clever, compassionate, humble but also fanatical, self-deluding, egotistical. I’ve liked what Harvey wrote before this but The Western Win ...more
4.5 stars rounded up to 5

The Western Wind really is an extraordinary book. I was drawn into the story right from the start. Samantha Harvey’s writing brings to life the sights, smells and sounds of the daily life of the ordinary people living in Oakham, a small village in Somerset in 1491. So often in historical fiction it’s about the notable historical figures of the period that are the main characters – here there none (although there is a reference to their bishop who is in prison for trying
switterbug (Betsey)
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There’s a tiny, isolated village in Somerset, England, separated from outsiders by a twisty river and no bridge. On Shrove Tuesday, 1491, the novel’s narrator and parish priest of Oakham, John Reve, is awakened by news that the body of the wealthiest villager, Thomas Newman, was sighted in the river’s fast moving current, before being swept away again. The only evidence of Newman is a green scrap of his clothing found in the bulrushes. Was this an accident, a murder, or a suicide?

Samantha Harve
Set in the English village of Oakham in 1491, this is narrated by local priest John Reve, who learns more than he might prefer to know about his neighbors through his time in the confession box. Thomas Newman, the richest man in town, has recently been found drowned. In this superstitious era, people wonder if Newman’s death and/or the recent flooding are God’s punishment for the arrogance of daring to build a bridge over the river. The archdeacon is eager to find someone to blame for Newman’s d ...more
This is a character study type of book, both the individuals - the priest John Reve, the dead man Thomas Newman, the pedantic rural dean; and the collective - Oakham’s wayward parishioners. The Western Wind is also incredibly atmospheric: all that rain, fog and mud reminded me of Aleksei German’s imagery for “Hard to Be a God.”

‘Word got round that there was a little village called Oakham,’ he was saying, ‘where anybody could go, no matter how unwanted in life. A village of scrags and outc
I really, really liked this book, which follows a fifteenth-century village priest in the days after the mysterious death of one of his congregation, Thomas Newman. It's broken up into four sections for the four days before Lent, but you read the days backwards, starting on Tuesday and working back in time to Saturday. This is the rare case where the first-person narration and the structure of the book work seamlessly together to create a compelling story. Our protagonist, Father John Reve, offe ...more
Set in a small village in 1491, the book’s narrator is the priest John Reve.  As he hears the confessions of his parishioners, the reader learns both about life in the village and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of one of its wealthiest inhabitants.  The most intriguing aspect of the book is that the story unfolds in reverse.  Although there was a lot to enjoy and admire about the book, such as its picture of life in a small village, I didn’t find the eventual reveal completely satisfy ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-favourites

With winter officially upon us, a time for appreciating stark landscapes, freezing winds, and lights brightening the 4 o’clock darkness, Samantha Harvey’s The Western Wind is the perfect read. This book surprised me in its absolute gorgeousness, from the prose level, to the voice of the narrator, to the moral implications the narrative mulls over. Told from the perspective of a medieval priest, whose town is faced with the death of their wealthiest inhabitant, the book brings forth the vibrant p
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this just after Elizabeth Goudge's novel Towers in the Mist, which provided an interesting exercise in comparison: The Western Wind is set a hundred and fifty years before Towers in the Mist, and the boisterous wonder of the Renaissance has not yet settled on England. Nor are we in such an exalted locale as Oxford. Instead, Harvey puts us down in Oakham, a small and isolated village in Somerset (travellers who get lost in the area tend to end up in Wales). Oakham is dying: it has a river, ...more
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
I’m genuinely baffled by the unanimity of praise for this book. For me it seems a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. An irritating and pointless reverse-narrative structure. The table of contents in mirror form looks clever, but on closer inspection the chapter heads are so vague and unrelated to action and development that it’s no great narrative achievement to have arranged them thus.
It’s billed as a mystery or detective story, but if there is any detection OR solution, I seem to have missed t
Claire Fuller
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
I really like Harvey's writing - she paints a very vivid picture of fifteenth century Somerset. I loved the character of Reve, and the various villagers who come to him for confession. What I wasn't so sure about was the plot. With her previous book, Dear Thief, I didn't mind at all that the plot was slight - it was all about the language, but in The Western Wind it feels (and I've read) that she's trying to make the plot stronger, and in fact she tells the story backwards. This makes it feel as ...more
Melanie (Perpetually Reading)
Jun 08, 2018 marked it as never-really-finished  ·  review of another edition

Unfortunately, this book was not for me. Although the premise of the story is interesting (small town, man drowns under mysterious circumstances, who did it??), the blurb did not (in my opinion) accurately describe the plot. The blurb (at least on Goodreads) makes it sound like the village priest is actively trying to figure out what happened to the murdered man. I've read till about half the book, and so far, it's more about his guilt of over his past and his inability to do anything to hel
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Oh I really liked this. It is not a historical whodunit but a voyage in to a late medieval world. It is beautifully written and whilst not aping 16th c writing manages to feel authentic. Although it hinges around the death of one of the villagers the book really is about John Reve and his relationship with his parish and parishioners. Reve is a man who is is weighed and found wanting in all senses and the careful backwards unfolding of the relationships is a pleasure. Well worth a reread, knowin ...more
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2018
This is prime example of a book that does something a little different, and does it well.

On the outside this is the story of a little village called Oakham. The novel is narrated by the village priest, John Reve. One of the village’s wealthiest men has been found dead in the river. Was it murder? suicide? an accident?
We find out what happened to Thomas Newman but not in a conventional way. The story is told backwards. It starts 4 days after his body is first seen in the river and goes into day
Andy Weston
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Set in Somerset in 1491 this is a crime story told backwards. Harvey’s knowledge of that time is hugely impressive and was a large part of the enjoyment I got from the book. The actual crime aspect works less well. In some novels that may be a problem, but less so here as in addition to the history, the setting and some wonderful characters there is good humour also. The backwards structure requires some effort from the reader. Its few moments of resolution are outweighed by threads left undone. ...more
Jun 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: want-to-own
I feel like I liked this book more than a 3-star rating would have you believe, but I also didn't like it enough to give it more than a 3 stars?

First thing's first: Samantha Harvey can write. I read the The Shapeless Unease by her earlier this year and was so impressed by her sharp, affecting writing. That same writing is definitely present in The Western Wind though more pared down so as to better service its story.

I'm not sure what to say about this novel, to be honest. The story starts out a
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Samantha Harvey has completed postgraduate courses in philosophy and in Creative Writing. In addition to writing, she has traveled extensively and taught in Japan and has lived in Ireland and New Zealand. She recently co-founded an environmental charity and lives in Bath, England.

Her first novel, The Wilderness, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009, longlisted for the 2009 Man Boo

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