Harvest time for Jim Crace as he signs off with a final novel
Jim Crace is one of the finest English novelists of the past 20 years - so why has he written his final novel?
Despite having written several of the finest British novels of the past 20 years – including Arcadia , Signals of Distress , the Booker short-listed Quarantine and Being Dead – Jim Crace retains not so much a low profile, as his privacy. He smiles contentedly. This is the way he likes it; Crace has always been in control.
There are no autobiographical revelations, no personal drama, no public histrionics. He does not issue wild statements about banishing the elderly to death camp phone booths, nor does he deliver provocative opinions about plastic princesses. Compact and self-contained, Jim Crace is a practical, determinedly ordinary individual, who lives in an ordinary home on the outskirts of Birmingham. It’s not quite urban and not quite rural, of both and of neither: again, it’s just the way he likes it.
Crace participates in conversations, not interviews. These conversations are so informative and interesting that it is only later that the interviewer can fully marvel at how good naturedly he or she has been kept at a distance by a writer whose vision is both profound and moral, yet who refuses to take himself seriously. Or perhaps he is just good at concealing it? The confident, canny Crace is elusive, make no mistake about it.
There is nothing calm or predictable about his imagination, which resides in a vivid subversive place best described as Craceland – it must be so as he does not believe in researching facts. After all, if you are telling a story, why not make it all up, including the plants and the famous old poets?
It may be my vaguely military-like old overcoat with its weary hint of revolution that causes Crace to follow his greeting with: “Have you seen Les Mis ?” I could lie but I admit that I did, if only because of Russell Crowe, who is the best thing in it.
Crace smiles his calm smile: “He is very good. We [Crace and his wife] liked it all, it’s very good.” It is obvious that Crace will and probably has defended the movie to all comers. He is like that, engagingly resolute and used to getting his own way. There is a sense of self-belief about him that is utterly likeable. His 11th novel, Harvest , has just been published to excellent reviews. “I do read them, the reviews,” he says. Harvest is powerful, real and compelling. It is also his final novel, but not his last book.
“I’m not going to write any more novels, I don’t want to end up being one of these angry, bitter writers moaning that only three people are reading him. I don’t want that. I have had a very good life in publishing, but this is it.”
Even the way he says “life in publishing” is decidedly perverse, decidedly Crace. Why does he say “in publishing” instead of “writing fiction”? He laughs gleefully: “I’ve always said that. When people asked me what I did, I’d say ‘I work in publishing’, and when they then say: ‘What side of it?’, I say ‘supply’ – no doubt leaving them to think I drive the books around in a van and deliver them.”