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The Restraint of Beasts Paperback – October 5, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; 1st Scribner pbk. ed edition (October 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684865114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684865119
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,700,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Good fences may make good neighbors, but in Magnus Mills's first novel, bad fences make for high tension indeed. An eerie noir fable told in a grim, deadpan voice, The Restraint of Beasts begins as an unnamed English fence builder finds himself promoted to foreman over Tam and Richie, two undermotivated Scots laborers. They've just been sent out to fix a high-tension fence when events go horribly awry--and that's just the beginning. For the rest of the novel, as his charges drink, smoke, loaf, and pound the occasional post, things go wrong over and over again. In a sense, that's all you can truly rely on in Mills's fictional world. It is not giving away too much to say that with these particular fencers on the job, you'd best watch your back. And your front, for that matter. And maybe keep a firm eye on the skies, just in case.

The team travels south to England, where they live out of a damp, cold caravan in the town of Upper Bowland. They're soon at loggerheads with the sinister Hall brothers, whose business enterprises seem to combine fencing, butchering, sausage-making, and a fierce attachment to school meals. "We committed no end of good deeds!" cries John Hall. "Yet still we lost the school dinners! Always the authorities laying down some new requirement, one thing after another! This time is seems we must provide more living space. Very well! If that's the way they want it, we'll go on building fences for ever if necessary! We'll build pens and compounds and enclosures! And we'll make sure we never lose them again!"

In between placing Kafkaesque obstacles in his narrator's path, Mills seeds his debut with small, darkly comic touches: Tam's father, whom we last see erecting a stockade round his house "to stop you from coming home any more"; the sound of Richie's Black Sabbath tapes "slowly being stretched in an under-powered cassette player"; the caravan's encroaching squalor; An Early Bath for Thompson, the book that Richie tries without success to read. No doubt about it, The Restraint of Beasts is a strange novel that only grows stranger as it progresses; with luck, it augurs more brilliant, odd work from Mills. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Good fences make bad labors in this mordant satire of tensions among the rural British working classes from Mills, a former London bus driver. The trouble begins in Scotland when Tam Finlayson, Richie Campbell and their unnamed English foreman (who narrates the novel) must rebuild a slack fence before leaving for a more extensive job in England. Their on-site supervisor hovers over them nervously until Tam accidentally kills him by releasing a tension wire at the wrong moment. The workers bury the body, hoping his absence will not be missed. Soon after beginning work in England, Richie kills their new supervisor with a clumsily thrown post. The next assignment, involving seven-foot-high electric fences intended for "the restraint of beasts," yields yet another accidental death and coverup. Mills's narrator describes these horrific events in an hilariously controlled and pervasive deadpan. As bodies accumulate and vanish without comment from police or other authorities, the novel moves toward a disturbing?if predictable?conclusion. Mills's satire occasionally loses its edge when he describes the technicalities of fence-building (a conceit he leans on heavily) and spends an awfully long time lending his sharp ears to dreary sessions in village pubs. Yet between the dull stretches, the clash between power-hungry bureaucrats and alcoholic, downtrodden laborers finds haunting, comic expression in this promising debut.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

The humour in this book is very dry and very dark.
Farah Yousif
I was even wondering whether the last pages were missing (unfortunately, no).
M. Kennedy
I recommend this book to fans of offbeat literature.
Alejandro Banales

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kcorn TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 31, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I absolutely loved this well-written glimpse into the life of 3 fence builders and their adventures in Scotland and England.I was laughing throughout this book, but readers should be forewarned that the humor isn't for everyone (it is a very dry humor, even a black humor) and the plot, such as it is, tends to ramble, meander and go in anything but a straightforward direction. Still, I couldn't put it down, riveted by the lives of these three men, the various crises that came up and their way of bumbling through each day as best they could. It was obvious that the author know about the life described here.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By "andrea54" on December 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book was read on the BBC Radio 4 "Late book".
So fascinated was I that, on returning home from the pub, I met a group of mates who said "Come for a late drink! " and I said "Er - no- I have to listen to the late book on the wireless..." (And thereby marking me down as a VERY SAD PERSON INDEED)
I read a LOT of books last year and this was one of the two that really hangs around (lurking in a leather jacket) in my memory. Brilliant, and yes, VERY funny.
PS My partner didn't like it - he said it had "No proper ending"!
PPS The other book was Seamus Deane "Reading in the Dark" - also brilliant (and not as depressing as you might think).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By F. Jasmine on December 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
I have a weakness for dark comedies about average people just trying to get from day to day while retaining grasp of their pride and sanity, and this book fits into the surreal end of that category. The pace is slow, the action is monotonous, the characters lack insight into their own actions--yet I found myself far more engaged in a novel revolving around fence post driving than I ever expected to be. The languid predictability of day after day of work becomes hypnotic, until jagged reality asserts itself. An excellent afternoon's read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By D. Ibrahim on January 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
At its heart, this is simple study of a working relationship between a foreman and his two very likeable, if shambolic subordinates. Carried by a simple, linear plot line with no twists and turns, the atmosphere builds up quickly and returns like a familiar smell each time you pick up the book and start to read agin.
Do not buy this if you want a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is no ending. At all. I like this technique as it leaves the reader to consider the likely outcome. But then, many people seem to prefer closure of the plot themes, and if you are among that number, this final chapter will drive you crazy.
Like many novels of this type the accolades on the cover claim great comedy and laughs within. I can't say I laughed out loud, but there are several examples of amusing dialogue between the main protagonists and the more peripheral characters.
This is the first of Mills' books I have read, and will be interested to read more. However, I don't think I want to read two of his in close succession.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
This simple, straight and gloomy book is a punch on the nose. It clearly blows down our faith in the post-Industrial Revolution rethoric that tells us that being a paid worker is the best we can get from our lives. Well, perhaps it's not. Perhaps we can end up getting a as empty existence as Tam and Richie got. And trying to fill it up with pints and pints of beer, as they do. I dare to say that, if Chaplin had had a nightmare the night before he conceived "Modern Times", he would come out with something quite similar to this little great book by Mills. I suggest you to buy it now and read it as soon as possible, so you can feel a bit more human, besides being a worker. But, if you've got to get back to work, give those two Scots a call later, because they might want to invite you for a pint or two.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on July 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
[T]he main concern of farmers was that their fences should be tight. Without this the restraint of beasts was impossible. -The Restraint of Beasts
Take a forty-something, bus-driving, first time novelist; start some rumors of a huge advance; for good measure, add in a cover blurb from the notoriously reclusive Thomas Pynchon; and you've got the recipe for a hype machine that just won't quit. Not surprisingly, the book was nominated for both the Booker and the Whitbread, though it didn't win either. Meanwhile, obscured in all of this is the fact that, like many a neophyte before him, Magnus Mills has a very clever idea for a novel here, but in the end doesn't really seem sure what to do with it.
The basic story is simple enough : a nameless English narrator works for a Scottish company building fences. He's made foreman of a crew which consists of two sullen and lazy Scotsmen, Tam and Richie. The three of them are sent to England on a special job where they spend their days laying fence, often quite lackadaisically, and their nights drinking up all their wages in local pubs. They leave a trail of dissatisfied customers in their wake, but fortunately, a series of accidents contrives to also leave these customers quite dead, and buried, unceremoniously, beneath fence posts.
Mills presents the story in utterly straightforward fashion, the narration so affectless that the deaths are barely noticed. Considering the author's working class origins and the monotonous existence of the work gang, it's natural to expect the story to turn into a parable about labor and exploitation, but there's nary a complaint, and he makes no effort to make the workers the least bit sympathetic. It's all just work, drink, death, work, drink...
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