The Western Wind is a marvelous, fascinating, multilayered medieval mystery set in the 15th century in a tiny, poor little village in Somerset in danger of falling off the map. Thomas Newman sort of the intellectual thinker in the village disappears and is found dead in the river. It is unclear if it was murder, suicide or an accident and John Rive, friend of Thomas’ and the local priest of the village is involuntarily turned into one of history’s first private detective by his superior, the Dean, in trying to find out what actually happened.
Reve is overburdened and self-doubting, he is intelligent, compassionate but also quite unreliable. The books is written in a unconventional way in that it travels back in time 4 days, so the book opens with Thomas Newman being found in the river going back to the past. John Reve uses the newly introduced confession box to start his investigation through taking confessions from the villagers.
The novel is chilling in many ways. In terms of weather but also the economic challenges that the little village, Oakham, is facing. It is a fascinating portrait of “normal” people in the year 1491 not the often told history of noblemen, artists or monks. The village is dead poor, they can’t even afford the builders they would need in order to build a bridge that would enable the villagers to finally travel to nearby cities and markets and put the place more thoroughly onto the map. 4 villagers were sent to a city to learn the craft of bridge building, but 3 stayed in the city and only one returned sick and completely unable to help much with the building enterprise. The bridge was built then by the villagers themselves but collapsed, they tried again and it collapsed again so they are now out of money and hope and with the bridge and Thomas Newman gone, the priest desperately tries to fix things and only making it a lot worse.
Samantha Harvey excels in the description of the characters and the atmosphere of the village. You really feel the cold, the wetness, the smells, the hunger. Her prose is rich in descriptions, it is beautifully written and a rare portray of everyday life. You can totally see that Harvey studied philosophy, she is very interested in ideas and some really interesting conversations happen in the book. There are a few historical inaccuracies but I found them negligible and I was really glad we read this wonderfully interesting book in bookclub and had a great discussion on this thought provoking story.
I highly recommend the book to you and I’m sure this will not be my last novel by Samantha Harvey.
I am not usually a big fan of historical novels, any you can recommend?