Review of Elmet
This impressive debut novel was originally scheduled to be published in November, but is available now as it has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize – taking its young author Fiona Mozley into the company of established writers such as Arundhati Roy, Jon McGregor, Paul Auster, Zadie Smith, Ali Smith and Sebastian Barry.
Elmet is a historic, medieval area of what is now Yorkshire, most famously written about by poet Ted Hughes in his collection of poems Remains Of Elmet. In this novel, Mozley taps into an ancient, natural sensibility of the land and its people. Narrated by teenager Daniel, it’s a timeless story which, although set in the present day, feels as though it could be set in any age, in a place untouched by the influences of modern technology.
"Mozley taps into an ancient, natural sensibility of the land and its people"
Daniel describes how he, his Daddy John, and his older sister Cathy, left the coastal town where they lived with Daniel and Cathy’s Granny Morley, and set up home in the woods of Elmet where thier mother, now disappeared, used to live. Daddy is a giant of a man, with a history of fighting and winning in bare-knuckle boxing matches. He is adept at all woodcrafts, and they build themselves a home in the forest, surviving on foraging and hunting. Daddy keeps his small family safe, but his way of life is soon under threat.
Mr Price, a local landlord, arrives one day, with his two spoiled sons, to tell Daddy that he is the owner of the land, and that they are trespassing. But he’s willing to let them live there if Daddy comes to work for him as a bailiff, oppressing the other local people whose houses and land he also owns. This is where the trouble starts for Daniel and his family. Should Daddy team up with the locals and defy Mr Price, or will this put his children in danger?
The language of the novel is sharp and visceral, and the Yorkshire accents of the characters are expertly rendered, avoiding the stereotype of replacing ‘the’s with ‘t’s, and instead, more accurately, missing them out altogether. The softer, introspective nature of Daniel is contrasted not just with his hard-fighting yet loving father, but also with his wilder sister Cathy, who is headstrong and defiant. Much of the narration concentrates on how the characters hold themselves and their bodies, and the way they move, bringing a raw, primitive sensibility to the story.
Reading Elmet, you are reminded of the great, passionate Yorkshire novels of the Bronte sisters, such as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. But, essentially, this is a story about trying to find a place in the world, and the broadening divide between the wealthy and the poor. In that, its themes and are as old as the land it depicts, and yet its style is fresh and original. Its Booker Prize nomination is well-deserved.
Written by Ruth, Marketing