It’s been a while since my last review but I’m finally getting a chance to get caught up! In my defence I’ve been trying to finish a draft of my novel which is finally complete (hallelujah!). My Man Booker shortlist reading fell by the wayside but there were a couple of the novels that I had still to read including this one: Elmet.
Daniel lives with his sister Cathy and his Daddy in a house built by his father by a copse two fields over from the east coast main line. The book opens with Daniel heading north along the tracks, looking for someone, before going back to the beginning of his story: their arrival at the copse as Daniel turns fourteen and Cathy turns fifteen. This life we see immediately is unconventional. Prior to their arrival on the outskirts of the village, the children lived with their grandmother, both parents fading in and out of their lives. They went to school. Now that Granny Morley has passed away their father has come back to care for them but in his own way. Both still minors, he doesn’t send them to school but instead to neighbour Vivien. She teaches Daniel from what books she keeps in her house; Cathy refuses and spends her time outside, exploring the countryside. Daddy teaches both children how to hunt and use the countryside for survival, living outside of the wider society.
I enjoyed the attention to the surroundings and reading about this different way of living. I was drawn completely with Mozley’s language resulting in vivid imagery. One of my favourite scenes was the Christmas Tree that Daddy makes, covering a pine tree in the copse with oil lanterns that are carefully designed so that they glow and dance in the darkness. So beautiful. The characters were well-rounded and the dynamic between the family and the villagers, an element of distrust always visible, worked to keep them close but always slightly outside of the regular society.
Where I became a little less sure of the novel was when the plot suddenly becomes evident, quite late on. It almost felt as though the book had originally been one thing and, perhaps in order to make it sell, had been changed into something else that was more plot-driven. Something felt disjointed anyway, at least for me. I was alright with this until the very end when events take such a dramatic turn that I didn’t buy it at all. This is, up to a certain point, a slow-moving book. I was fine with that. I even quite liked the arrival of an antagonist and thought he was used very well. I can’t be more specific without spoilers but I think that the Biblical level finale had an issue because I didn’t understand the motivation for that level of violence, beginning with the catalyst, an event that occurs completely off the page and seemed too extreme. A Tarantino-esque ending to what had been quite a gentle literary novel. I feel like the paragraph that starts at the bottom of p298 of my copy is a literal representation for what was done to this book.
Overall, I thought this was a great debut, and I’m glad that getting shortlisted for the Man Booker will have brought it to more people’s attention. Compared to some of the heavyweights on that list, it didn’t really stand a chance but it was just the small issues with pacing that really threw me off. I’m excited to see what comes next from Fiona Mozley.