Review published on April 19, 2017.
Universal Harvester tells the story of Jeremy, a video shop employee in small-town 1980s America. When his customers start telling him that some of the video tapes have been taped over in places with strange home videos, he and his manager Sarah Jane decide to investigate. When they discover that the home video location is a local farm, Sarah begins spending all her time there after meeting the owner, Lisa, abandoning the video shop and leaving Jeremy and one of his customers to find out what’s actually going on at the farm.
I loved John Darnielle’s first novel, Wolf in White Van, as it was such a strange yet compelling story, and once again the same is true of Universal Harvester. The story doesn’t develop in the way you expect it to. Divided into four parts and dealing with different people whose paths cross at different parts of the novel, it’s only at the end that it becomes apparent who the unnamed narrator of the story is. Mothers are at the heart of the novel, and the way Darnielle weaves the story together is particularly clever. His writing is wonderful and his storytelling is unique and compelling. There are times when it can leave you feeling a bit bewildered as you wonder where the narrative is taking you, but his skill as an author makes you appreciate the denouement when it’s finally revealed and everything slots into place. Universal Harvester was everything I expected from John Darnielle and more – compelling, quirky, clever and original. I highly recommend reading this (and his first novel) if you enjoy a great story that’s a little bit different to the norm.
Judith Griffith 4/4
Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
Scribe UK 9781911344070 pbk Apr 2017