"Cathy and Daniel live in the remote woods of Yorkshire with their gentle brute of a father, a former enforcer who now wants only to be left alone to raise his children. But when a powerful landowner shows up on their doorstep, a chain of violent events is set in motion"--
She rolled a cigarette for me too and lit it with a match from her top jacket pocket before turning the match to the end of the roll-up she was holding between her lips. I inhaled as deeply as was comfortable and blew my smoke in the direction of my sister and up into the night air."
and this one:
"The soft, wet moss on the woodland floor and the sallow bark of the ash smelt more familiar this morning than ever before. Birds in the branches and the small mammals in the undergrowth kept the silence with us, though I saw shining eyes and flickering indigo feathers through apertures in the leaves."
The story is an odd one: teenagers Daniel and Cathy live with their father, whom they call Daddy, in a hand-built cabin in a copse in Elmet, the "badlands" of York described by Ted Hughes in [Remains of Elmet] (and quoted on the frontispiece of this novel). Set in modern times, it has the feel of a medieval drama and that is clearly intentional. Such are the author's themes: the timelessness of the earth and family, but also of avarice and the wretched violence it breeds. Blending tribute to the natural world with a vividly visceral story, the novel kept me enthralled.
Still, it's not a perfect work, either. Young Daniel's relationship with Vivien, an older woman who introduces him to the pleasures of reading, art, and the soft life they offer, never quite rings true and, in at least one place, it simply offers distraction. Daniel is certainly a young man coming of age and his vague discovery of his own sexuality is a reasonable sub-plot but Mozley doesn't carry it off effectively. For that, she loses a whole star rating but definitely not my overall appreciation of a notable debut novel.
This debut novel, shortlisted for the coveted Booker Prize, is an absorbing, intense novel of suspense, which draws from the mini-trend of highlighting the lives of those living ‘off grid’, hand to mouth, living off the land, shunning the traditional life embraced by most people.
Cathy and Daniel live with their father, a prize fighter, in the rural woods of Yorkshire. Cathy is practical, smart, and insightful- Daniel is a sensitive child who enjoys domestic chores, and art over the harsh realities of his world. He loves his father, accepts his occasional moodiness, and depends on his sister emotionally.
But, as the story opens, the reader knows that something has happened to upset the family dynamic, something that has separated them. As the story progresses, we know that whatever happened, it was catastrophic because this family is close, loyal, and definitely a firm unit, despite their unconventional lifestyle.
This story surprised me. I was mainly curious about it because of its award nominations and because it was a debut novel on top of that, and because the description of it remined me of several books I read last year that featured alpha male fathers keeping their children out of school, teaching them to survive in the wilderness, and how to hunt and live off the land, but in those books the sinister quality comes from within the family unit, but in this case, the alpha father is making the decision to live away from society to protect his children. So, knowing the threat is an outward one, and it won’t take long to figure out where the danger lies, which will give anyone a queasy feeling of unease. I was constantly preparing myself for that crescendo, but I never anticipated the hairpin curve the story would take.
The prose is stunning with strong gothic tones which had me constantly reminding myself I was not reading a historical novel and wondering how the author captured that atmosphere inside a setting I wouldn’t have associated with it. There are many themes explored with such a stinging reality, stated harshly and emphatically and unapologetically. Gender roles, class distinctions, and the struggle against poverty is brutally forced onto the pages while the vividly drawn characters spiral towards their unstoppable destinies.
Award nominees and winners often leave me feeling bewildered. I don’t understand, sometimes, what caused a book to stand out within the staid world of literary critics. I end up scratching my head, wondering why the book left me feeling so underwhelmed. But, in this case, the author and her writing made quite an impression on me, and for once, I understood why the book garnered such lavish praise.
Again, this is a book that may not appeal to a broad audience. It is not necessarily the most upbeat novel, but while there is a form of retribution, you don’t want to show up expecting everything all tied up in a nice neat little bow or expecting a warm and fuzzy happily ever after. Despite that, this journey is one I am glad I took. I’d go so far as to say it as powerful as it is unsettling and stayed with me long after I turned the final page. I will certainly keep an eye on this amazing writer!!
This novel is the perfect example of why I try not to give up on a book. Approximately 3/4's of Elmet is rather sluggish and fraught with the daily details of living like survivalists in a modern world. However, it lays the ground work for the explosive finish which is frightening and powerful!
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.
This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
"Spring that came with a rush of color, a blanket of light, u filling insects and absent, missed prodigal birds on this prevailing sou'westerly."
Their father was a large man, an unbeatable fighter, and when money was needed this is what he did, he used to use this skill to collect rents for Me. Price, but no longer. The land now belonged to Mr.Price and he only wanted to take and squeeze the most out of those who worked for him. The haves and the havenots, once again in battle, an unending cycle. He wanted, Danny's father to collect for him, and if he refused he would be thrown off his land.
"Coxswain was one of Prices friends. It was Price's landline all the land around here and Coxswain held it, ran the farm, worked the labourers hard for a tener a day and dobbed them in to the Dole office if they complained."
So a lovely place, an temporary idyll is turned into a place of violence, and the before and after is jarring. Beauty next to horror. Narrated by young Danny the story becomes even more poignant, a story of a particular time and place, a story that is told in beautiful language of a time that will not come again for this young family. From the calm beginning the tension is increased by increments ,by events, until it becomes clear that their will be a day off reckoning and a young boy will be left to wonder. Yet, how this comes about is surprising, and unexpected. What an amazing talent this author is,her first book and it makes the Booker's short list. I can definitely see why.
We are fortunate enough to have one of the Short Listed Booker Prize winners coming to our Lit Fest in March, so it seemed churlish not to read her book for our book group. I'll confess now, that I tend to run a mile from any Booker Prize novel and the nearer it is to the winner, the further I run. However, one of our members had read this and recommended it, so we gave it a go. It got a very varied response within our group so I was surprised to find myself really enjoying the way it was written, in spite of the fact that not a lot happened.
The author has a wonderful way with words and her main characters are beautifully drawn.
Daddy was a complete contradiction; to the villagers he was a huge hulk of a man with unbeaten fighting fists, to his children he was a gentle giant who built his hen coop adjoining the house so the fowl could share their heat. He decorated a tree in the forest with real candles for Christmas. When it burned down, Daddy insisted they move it one final time before burning it, in case any little creatures had made their homes below in its warmth.
Daniel, or Danny, was the narrator, he was a quiet boy, thoughtful and studious.
Cathy, Danny's older sister, took after her father, brawny and independent, her strength was deceptive. As Danny said "I had an inside sort of head, she had an outside sort of head."
The children had lived with their father and grandmother, while their fay mother came and went, to no rules. More often than not she was absent and when she reappeared she often slept for days. After the grandmother died, Daddy brought them to a piece of unused land and they built their own house in the woods. This felt very much of the early last century, but it was actually much more recent times, so it's no great surprise that eventually someone came along and claimed the land. Their peaceful, isolated existence is shattered and events hurtle out of control.
When we meet Daniel at the beginning of the book, he is wandering along a railway line searching for his sister.
A review of Elmet would not be complete without at least a couple of the beautiful quotes:
"The dawn erupted from a bud of mauve half-light and bloomed bloody as I woke." (Loc 2004).
"I did not know about etiquette, nor about the correct and proper ways in which men and women should conduct themselves. Nor did I have any understanding that there were parts of the the body that held a different worth, a different kind of value or category." (Loc 1697).
I'm so glad I read this, it was a real joy, and although it seems to get varied responses, I'd recommend it to anyone who loves a well written, character driven book, but doesn't require that every page is action packed.
By sally tarbox on 30 April 2018
Format: Kindle Edition
The epigraph tells us that Elmet was the last independent Celtic kingdom in England...for centuries a 'badlands' and sanctuary from the law.
This memorable novel is set in this part of Yorkshire; though it's a 21st century world, it feels ancient, timeless, brutal.
Teenage narrator Danny and his older sister live with their father, a feral world of self-sufficiency. They don't fit into the community- Cathy's complaints of ill-treatment at school are dismissed: "they're nice boys". Daddy is a bare-knuckle fighter, huge, apparently a gentle giant to his children, yet with an inner requirement for brutality: "your Daddy needs it. The violence. I wouldn't say he enjoys it, even, but he needs it. It quenches him."
In a world of travellers and corrupt landowners, events build to a horrific and unexpected crescendo...
Poetic, with beautiful descriptions of the rural landscape, yet unsparing of the darker side of life, this was a worthy Booker prize nominee.
Fiona Mozley's Elmet is a finely-crafted moody story. The tale focuses on a father and his two children, Cathy and Daniel. The story is told from Daniel's perspective which is an excellent choice for a narrator. Daniel is unique and interesting; although he is central to the story, he exists largely as an observer. It's what happens to those closest to Daniel that truly propels the story.
Mozley wonderfully draws the rugged Yorkshire setting. The language throughout this novel is beautiful and vivid, but keeps with the atmosphere of the rural setting. Whether the characters occupy the surrounding woods or their own living room, the descriptions are always organic, yet crushing (like the forest).
[Daddy] led Cathy and me by our hands through the narrow corridors of our school. The ceilings were low and lit by halogen strip bulbs that flickered and shone the same colour as the magnolia pain on the walls, making it appear as if the light were emanating from the plaster. The only windows were long and thing and tucked just beneath the ceiling, well above the heads of the children who walked up and down these corridors so that when they looked up and out into the world beyond all they could see was the sky. On that day the sky was a mesh of criss-crossed grey and white cords being ripped and tugged and frayed by colliding winds.
Elmet may feel a bit light in the middle as the bulk of the story rests on the opening chapters and the ever-expected conclusion. Once the story comes full circle, one can see the necessity for the slow build in the middle. This is a story that doesn't rely heavily on being overly ornate or on the use of tricks. It hits hard at times, but not at the risk of losing its heart or voice.
Fans of Winter's Bone and His Bloody Project may appreciate the dark atmosphere of Elmet. The author gifts the reader with a bit more sensitivity than you might find in other similar tales, but that should not be a deterrent to any reader searching for a contemporary tragedy. This is a dark tale, but one that doesn't lose sight of its themes, love, honor, and devotion.
It’s a dark story, told by the boy who is young but often it feels that he might be telling this story as if he is looking back and seeing it as an older person. There is no law here in Elmet unless it is what you take it into your own hands. Cathy learns that no one is going to listen to her when she reports bad behavior and so she knows it is up to her to take care of things.
I’ve read some reviews and agree with those points that the narrator seems older than his years. That there was inconsistencies but I didn’t particularly notice them. I ended up liking this debut story inspire of the problems with the characters and the inconsistencies. I felt the ending fit the story.
As a quick look at Wikipedia reveals: "Elmet was an area of what later became the West Riding of Yorkshire, and an independent Brittonic kingdom between about the 5th century and early 7th century."
"Elmet" the novel hearkens back to a time of feudal landowners lording it over serfs although its setting is present day northern England. The family of ex-prize fighter John and his teenage children, the older & tougher Claire and the softer youngster Danny are squatting on land owned by local headman Mr. Price. We gradually learn the history of the family tie-ins and of the land during the course of the book which is narrated by the son.
John becomes somewhat of a symbol for the local working class and organizes a rent strike for improved wages and house repairs. There is very little indication of civil authority (bailiffs are mentioned only at one point) and the sense is one of the rule of might and force rather than of legality. Price's resentment of John's independence eventually takes a turn into a shockingly violent conclusion.
I very much enjoyed "Elmet"'s often idyllic settings with its air of medieval outlawry. It felt very much like a modern day Robin Hood vs. Sheriff of Nottingham update, although giant ex-fighter John is more suited in the "Little John" role.
For me, this novel read like the first season of an amazing new HBO series - dark, with a sense of forboding because you know something bad is going to happen, but you just don't know quite when. A series of well-drawn characters makes you invest early and deeply in the outcome of the tale. And when the bomb explodes, you feel the shockwaves down to your very bones.
I did not want to put this one down. I am absolutely looking forward to this author's next work. Definitely recommended.
This was the most unexpectedly welcome inclusion on the shortlist. Very disappointed to lose Reservoir 13, Home Fire and Solar Bones
Mozley is studying medieval history, and her starting point is the story of Elmet, the last Celtic kingdom in England and later, to quote the epigraph by Ted Hughes "a 'badlands', a sanctuary for refugees of the law". Robin Hood is clearly another inspiration, as is the Yorkshire landscape and its recent political history.
The story is narrated by Daniel, a rather effeminate teenage boy. The two other main characters are his "Daddy" John, a giant prize fighter who has a legendary reputation in the criminal netherworld of bareknuckle fighting, and his sister Cathy, a feisty tomboy who has inherited much more of her father's qualities. When their grandmother and guardian dies, and Cathy gets blamed for starting a fight with bullies at her school, John takes them to squat in a copse, builds a wooden house for them and survives by hunting and by lending his muscle to the locals in return for favours. John is fiercely independent, with integrity based more on natural justice than the law.
John takes the children to be "educated" by Vivien, who lives in a neighbouring house and has a large and eclectic collection of books. I think this was necessary to explain the language the book is written in, which is a mixture of lyrical well written prose and reported speech in Yorkshire dialect.
It soon becomes clear that they will not be left alone. The Robin Hood element of the story starts with the appearance of Price, who owns the land and many of the houses in the area. Price is something of a pantomime villain, but the issues he embodies are real enough - economic exploitation of poor tenants in an area that never fully recovered from losing its mining industry. John gets involved in fighting for the villagers, helping them to form a united front and leading a rent strike, and lending his muscle whenever bailiffs appear. This inevitably leads to a violent confrontation, which does become a little too melodramatic for my taste.
Not by any means a perfect book, but it is a memorable one and I would be interested in reading whatever Mozley writes next.
There's an overwhelming sense of peril shadowing this novel. Fiona Mozley does a brilliant job of both describing the natural world and of hinting at the danger to come. This isn't a book that obeys the usual patterns and if you need to have all your questions answered by the end of a novel, you may want to skip this one. But if you enjoy well-written novels that do things differently, you'll like Elmet.