I’ve always had an eye on Elmet since it was shortlisted for the Manbooker Prize in 2017. It’s one of those books that I tend to push to the bottom of the TBR because it was discussed and ruminated on so much that I felt myself backing away from it. When a book is so popular and is talked of often, this tends to happen to me. I like to wait until the buzz has died down a little and discover what the book is about at my own pace. I’m so delighted that Fiona Mozley was shortlisted for this award and that I got to discover this book and her writing sooner than I thought I would.
Elmet is the story of Daniel, Cathy and Daddy. Told from the perspective of Daniel we learn of their close knit family life living on the outskirts of rural Yorkshire.
Their house has been built by Daddy from scratch and is situated just close enough to civilisation for them to get to know the passing of the trains on the tracks but far enough away from any discernible neighbours. They are living literally and figuratively on the periphery of society.
They live off the land and are self-sufficient. Taught by Daddy to kill and cook animals, mainly birds and keep their own chickens. Daddy makes his living by bare knuckle boxing. Matches which are gloveless, off the grid, brutal with no clearly defined rounds. Just two men fighting it out until there is a clear winner.
By all accounts Daddy is quite adept at this violent way of life and it proves sometimes to be very lucrative. He has a reputation of being the victor and men from far and wide want to test their boxing prowess against him.
When the safety and security of the home Daddy has built for his two teenage children comes under threat, he has to take drastic action to ensure he keeps his family away from harm, and cement their future.
Character wise you really can’t get more intriguing than Daniel, Cathy and Daddy. Although the story is told from 14 year old Daniels’ perspective I found myself hankering to discover more about both Cathy and Daddy and would maybe have liked alternate chapters telling the story from their perspectives. Daniel is the exact opposite of his sibling and indeed his father (in both stature and temperament). He is the homemaker, the peacemaker and comes across as a gentle sensitive soul.
‘Daddy told us what he had done next. He recounted how he had put up his arm to catch the club. How he had bent it in half with his two bare hands. How Mr Coxswain had ended up sprawled and choking on the tarmac, beaten so badly he should have been unconscious. But Daddy was expert in the consequences of time. He knew how to lengthen an engagement. He knew how to make a man suffer. He detailed it all. Told us everything. Until it seemed like tears were coming to my eyes.
Then he stopped. Stopped suddenly. He rose from his chair and wrapped me in his arms, said he was sorry and that he should not have told us anything.’
There were actually times where I had to remind myself who’s perspective I was reading from as Daniel’s narrative felt quite feminine.
Conversely, Cathy is cut from the same cloth as Daddy. Secretive, brooding, introspective and harbouring anger and violence. Daniel’s relationship with older sister Cathy is one of being protected, looked after, a strong sibling bond formed.
The story has a dual timeline narrative, the present day (shown in italic chapters) and the recent past. Daniel is alone, on the road. I must admit that I didn’t find myself as invested in the chapters based in the present.
The writing is rich and lyrical. Beautiful in some parts and captivating. The landscape is described in enough detail for you to feel part of it. There is also a somewhat ‘timeless’ feel to this story. There are points where the narrative and backdrop feel almost historical. Were it not for the modern day references it could almost feel like you are experiencing a different age. Having said that there are also moments where it feels like you’re reading about a dystopian, lawless world.
I feel like it took me a little while to become fully invested in the story, however the final third of this book is where it really grabbed me by the throat. I was reading it on my lunch break at work and had to just set the book down for a moment during a particularly poignant moment between Daniel and Cathy. Real visceral, emotive writing.
It is also during this final third that the full horror of consequences are revealed. It is brutal, unflinching and difficult to look away from despite the horror. It is not for the faint of heart.
This is real gritty and raw writing, interspersed with some beautiful prose. A story of close familial bonds, life lived on the outskirts of society, of trusts made and broken.
I am glad I had the opportunity to read Mozley’s writing.
I will be back soon with my next review which will be The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman.
Please do remember to check out the views of the other panel members and the @youngwriteryear twitter account for more news. #youngwriterawardshadow
See you all soon.
Bookish Chat xx