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Elmet: A Novel by Fiona Mozley

Elmet: A Novel (original 2017; edition 2017)

by Fiona Mozley (Author)

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4183038,266 (3.81)61
Title:Elmet: A Novel
Authors:Fiona Mozley (Author)
Info:HarperCollins Publishers (2017), 320 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (2017)

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    History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (sturlington)
  2. 01
    My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent (hairball)
    hairball: Leave civilization behind, and varieties of disaster ensue. The fathers and reasons are different, but it always ends in flames.

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English (29)  Dutch (1)  All languages (30)
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
This book was the only genuine surprise on this year's Booker longlist, a first novel by a young British writer. I would be very happy to see this book make the shortlist - there may be at least six better books on the longlist but none of them would benefit as much from the exposure, and this is a promising debut by a talented writer.

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. ( )
  bodachliath | Jun 18, 2019 |
She told me that sometimes it was as if she was standing with two feet on the ground but at the same time running headlong into a roaring fire. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Mar 20, 2019 |
Stunning debut full of beautiful writing and visceral violence. Read my review on my blog http://annabookbel.net/pfd-sunday-times-young-writer-award-freeman-mozley ( )
  gaskella | Jan 2, 2019 |
This is a story about family ties and social class told through the eyes of a 14 year-old boy. I was touched by the strong family ties between this father, brother and sister. The story is dark, but the beautiful writing carries you smoothly along. Audiobook narrator was great. ( )
  redwritinghood38 | Nov 6, 2018 |
A powerful book about the nature of family in today’s society, ‘Elmet’ by Fiona Mozley is also about our relationship with the earth, nature, and existence without the trappings of modern life. Except it is impossible to escape completely.
The narrator, fourteen-year-old Daniel Oliver, is walking north in pursuit of an unnamed someone. As Daniel walks on, we see flashbacks to what happened before he set off on his journey. Danny’s life with his sister Cathy is split into two parts: living with Granny Morley beside the seaside where their father and mother are, separately, occasional visitors to the house; then later, living in a wood with Daddy, in a house hand-built, foraging off the land. At the beginning the descriptions of the rural landscape made me think this was a historical setting but ‘Elmet’ is set today, making the circumstances of the family more disturbing. They live off the land and the money earned bare knuckle fighting by Daddy, John Smythe. They live on the margins; the children are home-schooled, and receive payment in kind [a carton of orange juice from the milkman, chops from the butcher] for favours done. Daniel and Cathy visit a neighbour’s house each morning for lessons, though it is not clear how Vivien knows John or what favour he has done her. It is a story of hints and implications, expecting the reader to wonder and explore possible gaps in the children’s history without knowing all the facts. Sometimes this worked, at other times I felt it made me miss some of the subtleties.
The story gathers pace as the odious Mr Price, a local landowner, appears on the scene with his two equally odious sons. His mistreatment of the Smythe family is echoed by the exploitation of farmworkers and tenants not only by Price but by other local farmers and landlords. As the downtrodden gather together at the Smythe house in the woods, a plan is devised to face up to the bullies. Watching it all are Smythe’s two teenage children, almost but not quite adults, understanding some of what is happening but not the implications or cost. Both are still discovering their own identities and there is a degree of gender confusion; while Cathy prefers the outdoors and reacts first with fists flying, Daniel is the homemaker.
While some of the characters are thinly-drawn – Price, Vivien – Mozley writes poetically about the wilderness of nature, the trees, plants and animals, the passing of the seasons. She creates a visual picture of the house in the woods, of Cathy plucking a mallard, of Daniel cooking eggs and bacon. But for me the plot stumbles rather than flows and would have been helped by a little more exposition about the children’s mother and why their father is determined to take them away from their regular lives. Though Daniel’s observations are beautiful he is an unconvincing narrator, his voice too mature and sophisticated for a home-educated teenager. The transition from his thoughts – “It was as if Daddy and I had sprouted from a clot of mud and splintered roots and they had oozed from pure minerals in crystalline sequence” – to vernacular dialogue and the use of ‘wandt’, dindt’ and ‘doendt’ jarred.
The book closes without a natural ending, simply a pause in proceedings, as life meanders its course for Daniel. An elegiac read, beautiful if flawed, it covers a lot of moral questions for today. Families living on the margins of society and their right to choose to live how they want, the exploitation of the poor by the wealthy, family love and loyalty when faced with extreme threat, and what happens when you take justice into your own hands. A promising debut. Shortlisted for the 2017 Booker Prize.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | Oct 15, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Fiona Mozley’s Man Booker-longlisted debut is an elemental, contemporary rural noir steeped in the literature and legend of the Yorkshire landscape and its medieval history...Elmet possesses a rich and unfussy lyricism....Elmet belongs to a strain of northern British gothic that mirrors the variety that has long held sway in the southern states of the US. The gothic has always returned to us what we repress, whether that be monks hiding in priest holes or bodies buried in swamps...The embedding of such myths in the language and landscape of Hughes, dragged down from the moorland and into the woods, makes for a scarred, black gem.
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Elmet was the last independent Celtic kingdom in England and originally stretched out over the Vale of York...But even into the 17th century this narrow cleft and its side-gunnels, under the glaciated moors, were still a 'badlands', a sanctuary for refugees from the law----Remains of Elmet--Ted Hughes
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"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"--… (more)

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