Sunday, 8 October 2017

Elmet by Fiona Mozley   {Reviewed by STELLA}
One of the two debut novels shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker prize, Fiona Mozley’s Elmet is an unsettling portrayal of family and loss, of violence and deep love. Daniel is looking for someone following the path north - following the railway tracks across the moor and through the townships of Yorkshire, taking in the layers of time, of history, in a subtle, almost unconscious manner. It’s as though Daniel carries with him not only his own past, yet all the stories of those wandering and searching. Mozley’s narrator is a gentle loving boy, a young man who lives for his sister, Cathy and to please his Daddy. The family have returned to the land eking out a life, their home built by Daddy’s hands from the woods that surround them, with odd jobs, trades of goods and services and hunting for food. Cathy and Daniel live a solitary life, no longer attend school, yet have an understanding of their environment and a care for the wilderness that surrounds them. Yet all is far from serene. Daddy is known for his fighting prowess and a violence that brews within him. Coming back to the village also means returning to his past and the connection with the children’s mother, who has long disappeared. Simmering under the surface are hurts and unsettled scores, pride and suffering. Cathy is tough and sure, aware of her surroundings and the impending doom while her brother blithely carries on in his childlike way. The family’s presence on the land raises the ire of the landowner, Mr Price, and highlights a community riven between the landowning classes and the working and unemployed poor. Described as a 'rural noir', the story opens with Daniel on the road, the setting feels timeless - is it the past or some altered future? In fact, it is the present. It’s a beguiling opening that draws you in and endears the narrator to you: a young man searching, loyal to his family, as he tells his story of what has gone before, of their lives in the house, the simple pleasure of crafting their own way, making from scratch, following the rules of nature rather than the laws of man. The setting is beautifully described, almost dreamlike at times, yet the prose always fizzes with an underlying tension, a sense of something dreadful to come, and of secrets, of things unsaid. The violence is raw and brutal, it has a gothic element reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, and the work is seething with history alongside its clearly contemporary setting. It’s a remarkable debut novel and a fitting contender for the prize.

No comments:

Post a Comment