Jim Crace

Archives up in flames!

This is a counter-intuitive contribution to ‘archives in fiction’, as it concerns a fictional occasion when the kind of material historians love to find in collections is burned. The narrator, too, is escaping from his own past and moving on … somewhat in the opposite direction to the researcher. It comes from an utterly marvellous book, which I urge everyone to read at the earliest opportunity.

“Now there’s nothing to detain me here or to encumber my escape. I have my four mementos of these seven days, all marked in skin or made from skin. There is the forehead I’ve just bloodied on the stone; there is the shiny pink scorch mark in the middle of my palm, still slightly stiff; there is the kick-wound on my brow and cheek, faintly sore but it will mend, and disappear; and, finally, tied in a scroll with hogging string, the piece of calf-skin vellum I crafted myself in the manor’s scullery and which I almost used as kindling along with Mr Quill’s two preparatory charts. I burnt them both: the one that’s decorated with our commons and our fields and lanes, the fabric of our villages lives marked down in colours and in lines; and the other, busy one, proposing future pastures. I burnt them with the man that painted them. But I have kept the flap of calf. My vellum is an un-marked sheet. It could be anywhere.”

Jim Crace, Harvest, (Picador, London 2013), page 271

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