Jim Crace writes the purest fiction. No-one makes up their stories quite as he does. Perhaps he shares this ability with writers of science fiction. I don't know. I don't read much science fiction. This latest novel, like all his others, refers to nothing beyond its pages. You don't need to bring external knowldge to bear. Well, not quite true - an extensive, encyclopaedic knowledge of nouns pertaining to farming, foraging, threshing and generally making things with natural materials would help. Never have I read a book with so many nuggety words and compounds (horse loaf, weed bread). It is like finding that you have stepped into a Seamus Heaney poem. Sometimes it is hard to know whether a word is invented or not. The narrator, Walter Thirsk even admits to inventing words: "There ought to be a plant called purgatory. And another one called fletch." What are prickly eringes? Or manchet bread? Crace's stories have a mythic quality about them, and often read as though they have been translated by an extremely good translator. This is what gives the books their fictional purity. The author is simply nowhere to be seen. Crace's books are full of mysteries, often left unresolved, yet somehow the effect is one of generosity, allowing the reader to wander about the story on his own, and to make his own judgements. Terrifically distinctive and very good.
If anyone can tell me what a prickly eringe is - the roots of which can be turned into a love potion - I'd be most grateful. It isn't in the OED.