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Elmet: LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017 Paperback – 2017
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I’m feeling very conflicted about how I feel about this book. So many parts of it are 5 stars for me. And yet I’m left with too much confusion. I usually don’t mind a book that doesn’t tie up all the loose ends. But this one just leaves me with far too many questions. It’s almost skeletal in nature, the bare bones of the story. And yet I couldn’t tear myself away, compulsively wanting to know more. I think I would like to re-read this book in time but read it with the knowledge that it’s partly a surreal fairy tale. I think my first reading had too much of a realistic outlook and that’s why I was left hung up on many of the details.
It’s gorgeously written, intensely suspenseful and very moving.
Shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.
John and his children carved out space in the forest and eventually built a house, made entirely from their hands. They lived off of hunting, foraging and a small garden that Daniel kept. John took Daniel and Cathy to a friend's house in the mornings for a bit of tutoring. It was a haphazard approach to education. Daniel became close to Vivienne and loved his mornings with her, talking about all the things in the world he had never seen. Daniel's knowledge of the world was limited to his memories of his mother, his grandmother's house, and the fantastic stories Vivienne told about world events.
The children were innocent in the ways of the world, entirely dependent on their father's brawn to provide for them and the loving closeness of their family to nurture their souls. John Price, the wealthy landowner, intrudes in their quiet life and turns it upside down.
It is at the hands of the greedy Price and his sons that the poor people of the area, particularly John and his children, suffer because they have no choice in life but to work with the very little they have. Price has no sympathy for the underemployed men who live as his tenants. The hired henchmen collect the rent or throw the tenants into the street. The saga comes to a head when Price accuses John of a crime he did not commit.
Elmet offers an intimate and painful knowledge of life in the rural north that hasn't changed much in hundreds of years. It is a microcosm of the suffering going on there and in other places in the world today. Fiona Mozley writes with authority and a genuine feel for this family and many like them. I was happy to read this novel, one I will not quickly forget.
There is so much to this story. In a sense, it is a coming of age tale. It examines the nature of relationships and how well we know somebody- even if they are in our family. Most impressive, in this debut novel, is the way the author not only establishes realistic characters but how she ratchets up the suspense little by little until the explosive ending. It is brilliant work and with a unique voice. This novel was also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2017. For an unknown author and a small press book, it is a remarkable achievement.
Although the novel is sent in present day, it reads like a medieval Fairy Tale, not in magical terms, but in tone, iconic plot and characters, and the haunting, direct-article bereft, Yorkshire dialect. Daniel, a young teen, is our first-person narrator. He and his slightly older sister Cathy (a la Hazel and Gretel), live with their "widower" father, John (a Giant, a Woodsman), in a secluded forest in Yorkshire. John often participates in (illegal) Bare-knuckle Boxing matches for money. Enter the Evil Landlord and his slimy sons (Ogre plus Trolls). Thus we are set up for a showdown of good verses evil.
Although that all sounds simplistic, that's not the case. Mozely raises it all to true literature through her poetic prose and her sumptuous and stunning descriptions of the Yorkshire forests. These are characters we immediately care about, especially Daniel, and his personal journey to find himself, as well as his physical journey in search of this his sister. I can't wait to read more from this gifted writer. 4.5 stars!