Elmet: SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017
This was Gloucester Book Club’s August read. Our group was divided in our opinions. Some loved the book, with its fantastic descriptions of Elmet’s landscape and place, which almost made it a character in itself. It was a fine first novel which found itself a wild card on the short list for The Man Booker 2017. Mozley writes beautifully. We could imagine it dramatised for a future series on TV. This novel is a slow build towards the graphic violence at the end and for some of us this was too much. Not for the faint hearted but if not too daunted this is one for your TBR pile.
A story placed in the backwoods, where small town mentality, self-sufficiency, physical strength, love of land, community mores and independence from the Law operate. 'Daddy', John, is a hired thug, romanticised and given a superficial veneer of latter day nobility of character, but nevertheless a man who earns his money by use of his muscles, whether in Prize Fights among the boxing fraternity of The Travellers or doing the dirty work for the man who has the most power in the vicinity: intimidation, protection racket, and other dubious activities. It is suggested by some of the characters in the story that Daddy is also capable of being a thief. Daddy, apparently, has turned over a new leaf and will no longer do the dirty work of family who effectively control the local area. Daddy organises a rent strike and encourages the people to resist the tyranny of Mr Price and his sons. A motif that runs through the story is the suggested relationship between Daddy's strange, and absent, wife with Mr Price: this hinted love story is also the foundation to the dispute over land that Daddy has built his house on. Daddy has two children, Cathy and Daniel: they are completely different in personality and physical attributes and there is an idea they are both born into the body of the wrong gender. Another character, Vivien, weaves in and out of the narrative and her relationship to Daddy and his children is left vague. The story builds to the inevitable, and signposted, violent ending; shocking in its detail.
Read as part of Gloucester Book Club.
Literary fiction debut from female British author. Based in the north of England, this timeless novel has a strong sense of place. There are a range of characters showing the variety of human experience; some confirming gender biases and others challenging them. They are also shown warts and all, confirming the complexities of being human - we are neither all good or all bad.
I was blown away by this book. It starts off so poetically and with such beautiful descriptions of nature and a gentle introduction to the family that I thought I was going to be reading a lyrical, rural tale. I couldn't have been more wrong. It gradually winds up and winds up, with subtle clues left all along about which way things might go, but like Daniel I held on to hope. As the story progresses the tension mounts and doesn't let up until the very end. And it left me reeling. It is wonderfully written with a writing style that's perfect for the characters and the situation. There's barely a superfluous word with every paragraph taking the story forward to the dreadful denouement.
This is what the Last Monday Book Club thought of Elmet:
John - A well written, brilliantly described book which evoked in me a instinctive, familiar dread from somewhere in my subconscious. The author, rather than taking us back to historical cultures brings the clash of two modern versions of historical cultures to 20th century rural Yorkshire. Daddy’s violent but primitively moral world of the hunter gatherer in which he tries to keep his children apart from the avaricious modern feudalism of Price. The two lived uncomfortably together with Price awaiting an opportunity to bring Daddy back into his serfdom. My mind tried impotently to find parallels in modern Britain. In this world Daddy tries to prepare two children with somehow reversed gender stereotypes for the modern world. He tries to fit each for a different part. Daniel for the culture of the settled modern Yorkshire and Kathy for the traveller world of today. I would have liked to have my fantasy of their past confirmed but she tantalisingly leaves me with an unsettling curiosity about the history of Daddy, Vivienne and the children’s nominal mother.
Penny - I found it thought provoking & it made made me see how others live in such a different way. Daddy had strong morale code, but not conventional at all, Cathy was the opposite to a weak girl, Daniel liked housework etc. Characters well drawn, descriptions detailed. I felt uncomfortable with the violence, but that is a personal thing. Excellently written, but although I got through it quickly, I wanted to put it down to take a breath at times!
Donata -Elmet is a book which leaves so much to the reader's imagination that everyone is able to become the author. Not knowing exactly how Vivien is linked to the family, why Price is so eager to pass the land on to Daniel and why he has such a hold over Daddy (amongst many other questions!), leaves the reader wondering about a lifetime of interwoven paths. The descriptions used in the book were of great importance to the story. The depiction of a very rural, raw landscape help to bring to life a world that many will never experience and serve as the perfect backdrop to the intimate lives of its inhabitants. It is good to question people's actions and one's own actions; Elmet encourages this from the beginning of the first chapter to the final word.
Paula - An unusual, disturbing and thought-provoking book that builds slowly to a violent but not altogether surprising end. It is narrated by Daniel who tells the story of his and his sister's unconventional upbringing living in a wood with their ‘Daddy’, not attending school, hunting for food, being almost completely self-sufficient. But this is not self-sufficiency in a ‘Tom and Barbara/The Good Life’ sense; far from it. Through the eyes of Daniel we are introduced to a violent and corrupt world made up of petty and not so petty criminals, ex-cons, illegal immigrants, and the generally dispossessed. Almost an underworld that sits below official society that most people don’t know exists. After being introduced to this world, you are left feeling slightly uncomfortable and troubled.
All in all, well written but I did wish it was longer. I would have liked more detail about certain aspects of the story, the relationship with Vivienne, for instance. Overall a good read.
Sian - I found this book hard to get into at first, despite the fact that I was reading it fairly quickly. To begin with I did not know if I was reading it in a male or female voice, which is not surprising as you get to know Cathy and Daniel's characters better. I liked the bond between the family members and found the contrast between the two levels of society interesting. The lifestyle of Daniel's family was so primitive that I forgot that this book was set in modern times. I too thought that questions remained unanswered regarding Price and Vivien and I'm not sure if this was deliberate or not. I found the last third of the book the most compelling as the drama builds towards its conclusion. I was not surprised at Cathy's actions in the end, in fact I thought it was obvious. I am not sure if the chapters from Daniel in the present day added anything to the story. Overall it was an okay read, but I'm not sure I would recommend it to others.
Andrea - I really enjoyed reading Elmet, but am never pleased with an ending that's not an ending. It feels like a cliffhanger but sadly I didn't feel the need to know more. Such an unconventional family in conflict with the usual stereotypes. Unconventional lifestyle and fighting for peace and to be left on the outside of what most consider normal. Mum absent, Daddy is the carer, gentle but also tough. Cathy is also tough and the strongest of the siblings, then Daniel is soft and the homemaker, but also the survivor.
Louisa - What a book! Dark and brooding with a building sense of doom as the story unfolds to reveal its brutal conclusion. Daddy feels like a modern-day Robin Hood taking on the feudal Price for the benefit of the community, drawing them briefly into his world with the bonfire in the forest. There is a strong sense of place, described beautifully but never becoming unwieldy, with the just occasional use of the Yorkshire dialect to give definition without being obtrusive. I found the feisty Cathy more appealing than Daniel and would have like to know more about Vivian. I'd really recommend this book.
A fascinating story of a family outside of time. Daniel, Cathy and Daddy live in the woods in a house they have built, but on land they do not own. Daddy doesn't accept these modern rules of ownership and paperwork, he lives by a much older system. This is a strange and interesting tale, I haven't read anything like it before. A mix of detailed descriptions of nature counterpointed with brutal violence and an air of foreboding.