Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett ( author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don’t Look Down.

What We Thought: Daniel, who is 14, lives with his sister, Cathy, a year or so older, and his Daddy, on the edges of society. His mother, who was only ever an intermittent visitor, has not been seen for years.

Daddy builds a rough-hewn house on land he does not own, in an attempt to provide a settled life for his children. This venture is precarious at best and dangerous at worst. The landowner, Mr Price, soon comes knocking. He is willing to sign over the land, but at a cost. Daddy, a giant of a man, takes part in illegal fights and once worked for Price as a heavy and a debt-collector. He is unwilling to be 'owned' by Price again.

At first things seem relatively normal – within the parameters of their unusual lifestyle: Daddy manages the copse, chops wood, catches food, does odd jobs; Vivian, a neighbour who has known Daddy in the past, home-schools the children erratically from her own diverse and personal range of books. Cathy runs wild but Daniel is of a quieter disposition.

By turns prosaic and poetic, the narrative (told by Daniel) gradually reveals the secrets of the past. Rooted in the land, formerly known as Elmet, the novel depicts a life mud-splattered, hand-calloused and steeped in silence. A sense of unease soon turns to menace and the denouement is shocking.

A certain amount of poetic licence must be allowed as Daniel's narrative style seems too flowery and knowledgeable for a boy with little formal education. Also, at times Cathy seems almost superhuman. I didn't find these quirks a problem though, and accepted them readily within the context of the novel. The start did feel a little slow to me, however, and I almost gave up. I am glad I didn't, as I was soon drawn in to the strangeness of the story and couldn't wait to read on.

I received an ebook of this novel from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Holes, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Catcher in the Rye.

Avoid if you dislike: Oddly literate narrators and somewhat unbelievable events.

Ideal accompaniments: Homegrown vegetable soup, a pint of cider and a roll-up..

Genre: Literary Fiction.

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