Fiona Mozley: Elmet
Published by: J M Originals
Buy It: Here
What The Blurb Says:
Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned menacing and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them in the woods with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted.
Cathy was more like their father: fierce and full of simmering anger. Daniel was more like their mother: gentle and kind. Sometimes, their father disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home, he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.
Brutal and beautiful in equal measure, Elmet is a compelling portrayal of a family living on the fringes of contemporary society, as well as a gripping exploration of the disturbing actions people are capable of when pushed to their limits.
What I Say:
“I still smell embers. The charred outline of a sinuous wreck. I hear those voices again..”
Elmet had been on my ‘Must Read’ Pile for a long time. I was entranced by the premise, of a family living outside society, whilst living within their own rural idyll. After having read it in a weekend, I am asking myself why it took me so long to pick it up and read it!
Quite simply, Elmet is one of those books that once you start reading, you start bargaining with yourself – ‘Just one more chapter, one more page, five more minutes’, because it is absolutely impossible to put down.
Beautifully written, it has the juxtaposition of the family – Daddy, Cathy and Daniel, living contentedly in a house they have built, pitched against the underlying menace of the brutality their father can inflict on others when pushed to protect those he loves, and a world that doesn’t understand the choices they have made.
The family spend their days looking after the land where they live, farming and maintaining their property and generally existing in peace. Daddy makes money for the family by taking part in fights, a violent side of him they are aware of but do not see, as he attempts to keep the two sides of his life separate.
Cathy is not constrained by what society expects of her – she lives her life as she wishes, free from the ties of school life, choosing her own path at a pace that suits her and always has that element of unpredictability and wildness at her core.
Danny on the other hand, quieter and more reticent than Cathy, takes on the majority of the domestic tasks, and seems to find his happiness in providing for and caring for his sister and Daddy.
Fiona’s detailed description of the rural idyll that the family find themselves in, almost lulls the reader into a sense of calm and peace. Although it is a hard life, it seems a simple, uncomplicated one, and I have to admit I was at times jealous of them, and their ability to live without the constant need to be part of the overwhelming society we live in.
This false sense of security is testament to Fiona’s talent as a writer, as the arrival of the Price family into the landscape immediately creates a sense of unease and foreboding. You know that things are never going to be the same again, and with that, comes the realisation that the Prices will be the catalyst to destroy the life the family have so carefully created.
Mr Price arrives with his two sons, claiming that he is the landlord and that they are his tenants. Daddy is aware that Price has the police and the council in his pocket, and that he is facing a huge battle against this powerful family to maintain the status quo he has fought so hard to create.
Cathy and Danny are now faced with people intruding on their landscape, but instead of fearing them, they find them intriguing, a side of life from which they have been shielded.
“..though I loved watching birds and beetles, watching human beings was the thing
I loved the best.”
Realising that their peace is threatened, Daddy comes up with a plan to exact revenge on Price, and persuades Cathy and Danny to infiltrate the teams that Price uses to farm the lands, and to get the workers to come forward and tell their stories. In doing so, there is a new community that forms, a group of people who have been treated badly by Price, and Cathy, Danny and Daddy find themselves part of that.
What I also found really interesting was the way in which Danny explores his sexuality. He is free from the confines of a narrow-minded world, where he can truly express himself. He has no knowledge or constraints on how he should behave and I thought that was really liberating and a clever way to make us realise how defined we are by what society expects.
As Danny says,
“Nor did I have any understanding that there were parts of the body
that held a different worth”.
The tension in the novel starts to build as Price realises that his hold on his world is being threatened. The final chapters are unflinchingly brutal and are at times difficult to read, but this is never gratuitous violence. The actions of the characters caught in this world are reactions to the fact that their existences are being threatened, that what they thought they knew will be forever changed.
Fiona Mozley has written a quietly brilliant masterpiece which deserves every piece of praise which has rightly been heaped on it.
Elmet is a superb, thought provoking novel, filled with both the beauty and unrelenting harshness of the natural world. It shows us if we are determined, how easily we can live contentedly outside the confines of society, and that it is those that wish us to conform who are the biggest threat to our happiness.
I loved it.