Multifaceted and many-voiced: a complex debut that's a saga of an English village viewed over more than three centuries, and conveyed as a series of distinct but interrelated episodes involving successive generations of families and neighbors. The rural charms of Ulverton are exquisitely detailed--from its famous barrow and undulating terrain to the hardwood copse that provides a livelihood for woodworkers--but Thorpe's community is by no means tranquil. A soldier home from Cromwell's campaign against the Irish finds his wife remarried and his farm taken away, then is killed for his trouble; an 18th-century farmer with a scientific approach to husbandry takes comfort in a housemaid when his wife becomes despondent, and she soon hangs herself in his cowshed; an 1830 protest of ploughmen over losing their jobs to machines turns into a bloody riot, with the leaders hanged or exiled; a generation of young men is urged to war in 1914 by the local gentry, never to return; and as fields are purchased for a ritzy subdivision by a local developer at the height of the 1980's economic boom, the skeleton of Cromwell's soldier comes to light, casting a pall over the project that keeps home-buyers away. Incidents appear in a profusion of narrative modes: through a sermon; in tavern talk, pining love letters, or the subliterate scribblings of a mother writing via a friend to her son condemned to death; in mannered musings accompanying a collection of 19th-century photographs; and, finally, in the hackneyed script of a TV documentary. A sobering, insightful, stylistic tour de force full of historical nuances and bleak humor: this is a chronological cross- section of a rural English community and its brutal way of life.