Posted on April 15, 2018
12. ‘Elmet’ by Fiona Mozley
I’ve been reading a lot of sci-fi recently, so when I decided to pick up Elmet by Fiona Mozley (nominated for the Man Booker last year), I was weirdly a little apprehensive about reading something ‘literary’ again. Fortunately, I really enjoyed it – Elmet is a slow burn with an explosive ending.
Daniel lives with his sister, Cathy, and their father in their self-built home in a Yorkshire forest. Daddy used to be a bare-knuckle boxer, supporting his children through money won in illegal fights, and Cathy has inherited his quiet, wild fury. Daniel, on the other hand, is more cautious and thoughtful, and it’s through his watchful eyes that this story is told. The small family try to live a quiet life in the forest – managing the copse and hunting their own food – but the laws of the modern world will appear on their doorstep in the form of corrupt landowner Price, and Daddy will have to do whatever he can to protect his family.
The natural world is as much of a character as the people in this book, and Mozley writes some beautiful descriptions of the forest and the animals that make these feel like real, living landscapes. There is also a strong sense of fairytale: the family are trying to live a rural way of life that has all but died out, and you expect to see knights and outlaws around every tree. The title, ‘Elmet’, is a reference to the last independent Celtic kingdom in England, which existed in modern-day Yorkshire until the early 7th century. Daniel, Cathy and Daddy seem to be living in a time-warp, and although it is a beautiful way of life, there’s also an unspoken violence always bubbling just beneath the surface.
I liked the wandering nature of Elmet‘s plot. For the first half of the book Mozley sets up the family’s life, gives us their troubled background and introduces us to characters in a way that feels quite natural and almost aimless. I couldn’t tell where the book was going (indeed, it felt like it was floating along and didn’t really know either), but I was happy to be along for the ride. Then, as Mozley started to introduce Price and build up the tension for the second half, I realised that there had been intent all along. It’s difficult to describe, but it was a really interesting reading experience – I started out thinking this would be a gentle, winding story, and so I really wasn’t prepared for the loud gut-punch of an ending.
I really recommend Elmet. It features awesome characters, beautiful descriptions, a dream-like atmosphere and a plot that you don’t realise has grabbed hold of you until it blows up in your face.
“And yet there was nothing of the world in our lives, only stories of it.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
If you want to read it, you can buy Elmet here.