Jim Crace, a British author who won the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction for “Being Dead,” has long displayed an interest in the vicissitudes small communities undergo when buffeted by powerful economic and historical forces. “The Gift of Stones” (1989), set during the Stone Age, details how the making of bronze — ushering in the Bronze Age — imperils the livelihood of stoneworkers. “Signals of Distress” (1995) depicts an 1830s English village whose residents learn that the soda ash they extract from seaweed and sell is no longer needed to manufacture soap.
Crace’s latest novel, the outwardly unassuming yet surreptitiously thought-provoking “Harvest,” is a moral fable that takes place during one of England’s intermittent enclosure movements when title holders to shared land, or “commons,” fenced it off and evicted the peasants who farmed it. “Harvest,” narrated in the present tense by Walter Thirsk, one such peasant farmer, is set against the backdrop of a rise in the wool trade that impels landowners to convert their farms into sheep pastures. (This would mean that the story likely takes place in the 16th or 17th century, when the wool trade took off.)