Andrew Smith's Reviews > The Ancient Minstrel

The Ancient Minstrel by Jim Harrison
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

liked it
bookshelves: netgalley

This was my first experience of Jim Harrison’s writing, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d done a little homework and know that he is in his seventies, writes poetry as well as fiction and that he had penned the novella that led to production of the film Legends of the Fall. And I like fiction set in the wide open spaces and small towns of America, so I was looking forward to this one.

There are three novellas here – well maybe two and a short story to finish. The forward was funny and self deprecating and I warmed immediately to Harrison's style. I liked the use of language and knew this was someone I could spend some time with. The lead story is a tale of a seventy-year-old writer of poetry and fiction (sound familiar?) who was spending most of his time in a rural location, trying to produce the book he’d promised his publisher. In reality, he was struggling to come to terms with his fading libido and was more interested in raising pigs. It was amusing and colourful and it was difficult to interpret what was fact (biography) and what was fiction. There were some great sections where I was totally absorbed by the descriptions but then I’d go a few pages where nothing much happened and it felt a bit directionless. A bit of a mixed bag, but on the whole a lot of fun.

The second offering was set on a Montana farm and had a similar feel to the first story but adopted a more sombre style. This time it told of a woman whose passion was raising chickens. We got to learn a lot of the back story concerning an English mother who was conned to move to America with her new husband on a promise she’d get to live on a farm. In reality, they set up home in a small town where her husband went to work running the local bank. There was quite a lot here: the hard drinking, selfish father, the wayward, ill-treated brother and the unhappy mother all performed roles. The story also moved to England at one point, where our heroine experienced the grimness of the London blitz and found love - of sorts - with an ex-soldier in Cornwall. Like the first novella, my interest peaked and waned with this one too. Brilliantly descriptive passages were interspersed with dull ‘filler’.

The third story was the shortest of all and I didn’t like this one. A retired detective in his sixties lusts after a fifteen-year-old girl who offers to do some gardening tasks for him. Their sexual encounters are graphically described and I found the whole thing seedy in the extreme. There was a wider story this was wrapped up in but that held no interest for me at all.

Harrison is no doubt a gifted writer and at times his prose is totally captivating. His honesty and his power are undoubtedly his strengths. But his mind (and his pen) wanders in some strange directions and he consequently delivers both highs and lows. I may well seek out more of his work though, because when he’s good he’s very good indeed.

My thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for providing an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
34 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Ancient Minstrel.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

January 29, 2016 – Started Reading
January 29, 2016 – Shelved
January 29, 2016 – Shelved as: netgalley
February 4, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Melanie (new)

Melanie Great review Andrew! I have a couple of his books waiting on shelves somewhere.

Andrew Smith Melanie wrote: "Great review Andrew! I have a couple of his books waiting on shelves somewhere."

Thanks, Melanie. He's got a strong style and a nice turn of phrase. If you catch the right story I think he'd be very good inded.

message 3: by Angela M (new) - added it

Angela M Nice review, Andrew. I have this waiting to read .

Andrew Smith Angela M wrote: "Nice review, Andrew. I have this waiting to read ."

Thank you, Angela. I hope you enjoy it. I'll look out for your thoughts.

Andrew Smith Sabah wrote: "Lovely review, the first seems a wry semi autobiography, really rather charming. Thank you, Andrew : )"

Thanks, Sabah. Yes, the first is probably the best and it felt very autobiographical to me. It was told in the third person, which might have been an effort to throw readers off the scent. But so much of it seems to parallel events in his own life that at least some of it must reflect real events.

message 6: by Tabetha (new)

Tabetha Wonderful review, Andrew!

message 7: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Nice review Andrew

Andrew Smith Tabetha wrote: "Wonderful review, Andrew!"

Thank you, Tabetha :)

Andrew Smith Barbara wrote: "Nice review Andrew"

Thanks, Barbara ;)

message 10: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Masterson Great review Andrew!

Andrew Smith Jennifer wrote: "Great review Andrew!"

Many thanks, Jennifer :)

message 12: by Deanna (new)

Deanna Great review, Andrew :)

Andrew Smith Deanna wrote: "Great review, Andrew :)"

Thank you, Deanna :)

back to top