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Havoc, in Its Third Year

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  447 ratings  ·  54 reviews
A penetrating and ambitious historical novel, "Havoc, in Its Third Year" is an ingenious, often deeply unnerving narrative of seventeenth-century England that speaks directly to the fanaticism and fears of today.The time is the early seventeenth century, as the quarrel between Royalists and Parliamentarians turns toward civil war, and that between Catholics and Protestants ...more
Hardcover, 247 pages
Published August 24th 2004 by Simon & Schuster
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Average rating 3.55  · 
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 ·  447 ratings  ·  54 reviews

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Mar 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: table
it has happened again!!! well, two things have happened again. first,i started reading this book thinking it was about the plague. the cover looks plague-y right? well, its not. which is fine, but this is just the second time in as many months that i for some reason have a clear mental sense of what a book is about and as i am reading i have to wonder why my mind was lying to me. second: as i was already well into the book, i decided idly to read the back copy. (or flap copy, as i have the hardc ...more
Jonathan Stephenson
Surely it has to be acknowledged that the far less than profound expectation of most fiction on the part of the everyday reader is that it will be in some way entertaining, which is what for some reason I had hoped for from this historical novel.

This book is well enough written using language that gives a strong sense of period whilst remaining easily understood. It is clearly quite well grounded in factual research and starts out as if it is to be an historical mystery or detective story. Then
Jun 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Havoc is a multi-layered parable set in England in the 1630s. A time shortly before a religious based civil war during which King Charles I was beheaded, a time of immense unrest. Catholics were outlawed and their priests when found were hung, drawn and quartered. Surviving Catholic laymen were barely tolerated, were suspected of conspiring with the pope to overturn society and were forced to attend Church of England services four times annually. Many persons were displaced and were roaming the ...more
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
There is so much that I admired about this novel, foremost the pitch-perfect 17th century perspective, the beautiful evocation of married love and its relentless pursuit of compassion. It is the story of Yorkshire coroner John Brigge, suspected papist and erstwhile governor of his town, set amidst the world’s descent into a chaos of Protestant extremism and violent scapegoating in the years before the English Civil War. The thread that holds the novel together is Brigge’s determination to find j ...more
Andy Weston
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Set in the seventeenth century as the civil war in England continues, coroner and governor John Brigge is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the rise of fanatical Puritanism. Bennett’s historical detail is commendable, but the reasons this novel reads so compulsively for me are the cast of characters and the setting of the Yorkshire moors.
To write so convincingly about the rugged and wild beauty of the moors needs experience and appreciation of it, which Bennett clearly has. In this respe
This was disappointing. Historical fiction can be a heavy lift, especially when it is set in a time of such twisted and unfamiliar mindset as Puritanism. This succumbed to caricature, and did not really grapple with the Puritan outlook, other than blame-and-shame. It basically took a modern-minded protagonist, thrust him into the uncongenial setting, and he didn't much like it. We likely wouldn't either, but if you are expecting insight or understanding as to the trends of those times, you will ...more
Ratings (1 to 5)
Writing: 4
Plot: 4
Characters: 3
Emotional impact: 4
Overall rating: 3.75
Andrew Bullock
Jan 01, 2013 rated it liked it
In Brigge the coroner, Bennett has created an interesting and sympathetic character and the parts of the novel which deal with his domestic life are deftly handled. In particular, I found the passage in which he and his wife reaffirm their love at the crisis of their lives is profoundly moving.

However, his Puritan antagonists are one dimensional characters, whose motivations are never really explained, and too much of the narrative is taken up either with descriptions of the degradation and cru
Aug 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Set in England in the early 1630s, but with lots of resonance for the present, as a small town's leaders seek to impose order in the face of perceptions of increasing disorder & immorality by increasingly harsh & far-reaching punishment. Our hero haltingly pleads for tolerance, reason, & mercy but is torn between the need to make such pleas in public, the risks of doing so, & the desire to simply retreat into the pleasures & small comforts of his family (his wife & son). The hero is a compelling ...more
Oct 26, 2010 rated it liked it
What I found most impressive about this book was that not only the dialogue, but also the descriptive, was written in period language. And not by throwing in archaic terms, which most historical fiction writers do, but by having an absolute grasp on the sentence structure of the 17th century. (Or at least what I understand of the 17th century)

The story focuses on a man who holds office in a town during a time of political unrest and religious upheaval. Our protagonist is a man struggling between
Apr 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Havoc, in Its Third Year is a historical detective story that very deftly balances the needs of a good crime novel with the mood of its setting. Bennett manages to craft a story that is full of questions, twists and turns, and moral imbiguity for both its protagonist and the characters who surround him. He has also crafted a voice for himself, specifically for this book, which perfectly fits the setting of seventeenth-century England. It may not be altogether realistic, but it is evocative and d ...more
Maggie Hesseling
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-mystery
I picked this novel up years ago, but never got round to reading it. Now that I have, I wish I had read it sooner. Other than sleepy hollow, I've never read a crime novel set in 1600s England. Written, with interesting characters, self reflection, as well as development. What really makes this novel brilliant is its language. Instead of opting for writing in dated English, Bennett uses modern English, but colors it with biblical phrasing... especially that of the St. James Bible. Ending with a t ...more
Jan 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
FAVOURITE QUOTE: "There is today too much pleading of sincerity... Let me have men who are doubtful, who struggle with their consciences, who sometimes are confused by right and wrong, whose perceptions fail, whose troubled minds lead them this way and that and even to dark places they should not go. I do not care for these certain men who insist that what they feel is the truth as though their sincerity alone were enough to excuse their fanatic hearts."
Paul Bryant
Nov 20, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
This was a pretty good novel. But who needs pretty good novels? Not me.
Marcus Wilson
Apr 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: historic-fiction
Booker-nominee Ronan Bennett's historical tale, Havoc in its Third Year, is set in the north of England in the late 1630’s but is chillingly modern, and has been compared to Arthur Miller's The Crucible in its marriage of historical drama and contemporary significance.

Havoc In Its Third Year unfolds around a fearful and repressive Puritan government. It focuses on John Brigge, a coroner in the north of England and one of a collective of reforming governors of the town, three years into a regime
Jan 04, 2019 rated it liked it
This novel teetered a bit on the edge of historical fiction and allegory. Perhaps that was intentional. Bennett is a skilled writer and does an admirable job of depicting the tensions and fissure lines in English society in the early 17th century that eventually erupted in the English Civil War and resulted in the ascendancy of Cromwell, whose legacy is bitterly remembered throughout Ireland by Catholics especially. Bennett's protagonist, John Brigge, is a closet Catholic who has himself ascende ...more
David Smith
Aug 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like everything Ronan Bennett writes. Set in the 17th century, Havoc in its Third Year could easily be adapted to conservative societies in 2020. The Lord Savile and Challoner factions during the latter days of the reformation could be the Democrats and the Republicans, or the ANC and EFF. More of the same, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It's also a page-turner of a murder-mystery.
Audra Spicer
Mar 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My thoughts have returned again and again to the characters and themes in Bennett's novel. This is not an easy read, but definitely a rewarding one.
Apr 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Reading this during the Covid lockdown was perhaps the wrong choice. The historical setting seemed very prescient.
Feb 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2004
Mid 4. This novel deftly explores the religious and political turmoil which was inherent in 1630s England. With Charles I attempting to rule without the support of Parliament schisms appear between those who adhere to religious traditions and puritanical sects who wish to create a 'community of saints' by removing any vestiges of popery from the realm. As such, in the northern town which acts as the novel's setting a group of prominent Puritans under the leadership of Nathaniel Challenor have as ...more
Tony Sullivan
Jun 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yorkshire in the 1630s is a bleak, impoverished place. Puritanism is gathering strength. The harvest has failed for the third year in succession, and desperation is spreading. The response of the local authorities is a law and order crackdown, which needless to say has done nothing to reduce thefts or public disturbances. Local coroner John Brigge has to find his way through this tricky place. He is a relatively well-off farmer, also the public coroner and a governor of his town, but his status ...more
Feb 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Well, it finally happened. I finally got my comeuppance.

Let's start at the beginning: I have an eerily innate ability to derail people in life that wholeheartedly attempt to be very inclusive of others; inclusive by way of equal weight and value placement on differing opinion and asinine suggestion.

Fair enough.

Anyway, back to my comeuppance. For legal reasons I cannot delve too deep into detail, but let me state the following right here and now before I return to my given task at hand:

There i
Viki Holmes
This historical fiction was a bit of a curate's egg, all told. Some fantastic characterisation, and the scenes between John and his wife Elizabeth shone: a beautifully human relationship demonstrating true understanding and compassion; but the story arc seemed to peter out somewhere, the mystery of a child's death and a falsely accused mother never really leading to anything as interesting as had been suggesting and really operating as a backdrop for the more everyday human dramas going on. Whil ...more
Sylvia McIvers
The righteous governor has ousted the greedy tyrannical governor. And the poor will be taken care of, the citizens will prosper, and now there shall be the Kingdom on the Hill.

OK, that's a biblical reference, right? I recognized some other imagery, but #notmyreligion so I'm sure I missed some. Great story. Finished it in one night.

But lo, the righteous governor turned into a greedy tyrant, and indeed all was not well.

If this hadn't been written in 2004, I'd say it was direct commentary on 2018-
This book starts out as a murder mystery, evolves into a historical novel about small town political intrigue, and winds up as a meditation on morality and duty to fellow man. It loses a little steam as it makes that third transition but is overall an absorbing read. The hero, John Brigge, is a flawed but sympathetic man who is caught in a situation that is very specific to his time and place but has universal aspects. There are some dream and vision sequences that are handled a bit awkwardly bu ...more
Sally Whitehead
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it
An enjoyable enough read, but lacked a certain something. I've read other novels set in England in the mid 17th Century and found them to be far more historically evocative. The plot just sort of meanders along and the element of mystery was too subtle.Some interesting characters but all rather two dimensional. Personal taste and all that, but I'd rather have followed Katherine Shay's story in far more detail.
Feb 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Historical novels are enjoyable as all the period detail sticks in your mind better than it does when, say, making your way through a proper history book. Even though it's not actually fact or anything like that, and is just a story that one person did think up out of their head.

Anyway, I'm now an expert on 17th century England. Ask me anything.
Apr 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
I really liked Bennett's The Catastrophist so I was disappointed by how lackluster this turned out to be. He's so caught up in trying to capture the turmoil of the period that the plot and characters never really cohere. Plus, he starts with what could be an intriguing mystery and totally drops it for a pretty awful WTF ending.
David Maine
Dec 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Great, great book. Historical novel, very grim, set in England at the time when Irish immigrants were seeking work and refuge in the country, and religious & political intolerance were growing... sound familiar? Blisteringly well-written. ...more
Feb 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Ronan Bennet takes you on a trip back into the madness of puritanical England - and the comparisons with our own intolerant age are striking. The story of how one mans attempts to live an honest life at a time when people were putting the mental into fundamental.
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Ronan Bennett is a novelist and screenwriter who was born and brought up in Northern Ireland and now lives in London. His third novel, The Catastrophist, was nominated for the Whibread award in 1998. Havoc, in Its Third Year (2004) was listed for the Booker prize. Havoc has been adapted into a motion picture to be released later in 2012. His latest novel is Zugzwang. His television drama Top Boy w ...more

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