Saturday, October 14, 2017


Elmet was the dark horse of the Man Booker short list and after reading an intriguing review I found a copy at my library. Side note:  History of Wolves and Exit West were also nominated and I looooved both of those - although so was Lincoln in the Bardo and I swear to God I cannot get through that thing.  Although everyone else is going absolutely nuts over it so who am I to judge? 

"Elmet", it should be known, was the name of the wild country of northern England back in the 5th century and also the subject of an epic poem by Ted Hughes. (Favor a challenge? Read the Wikipedia page on Elmet. Sample sentence: "In the Tribal Hidage the extent of Elmet is described as 600 hides of land, an area slightly more than the total of the wapentakes of Barkston Ash and Skyrack." Whaaaaaaaaaaaa?)

Fiona Mozley is a young, British author and this is her first book. She writes lovingly of a small, odd family composed of "Daddy", Daniel, the narrator, and Cathy, his sister.  They're sort of like squatters and build a house on someone else's land and mostly live off the land, eating wild animals and trading with people in the nearby village.  Daddy occasionally engages in a fist fight for money.  Most of the book is allotted to the almost devotional descriptions of the home and the food eaten in the home.  The family's house build completely by them, covered in moss, evokes a feeling of deep contentment, even despite Daddy's occasional dark periods when Daniel and Cathy retreat to the outdoors to give him some space to expel his demons.  Interspersed throughout the book are very short passages that indicate Daniel is chasing a woman - one can only assume it is his sister - and it is unclear why or how this came about.  As Daniel runs, his narration becomes even more poetic - he is almost animalistic in his single-minded pursuit:
I see bovine silhouettes shift steadily across meadows, hulking their uneasy weight from trough to furrow, and elsewhere, I see the dusk settle on the fleeces of grazing ewes like sparks from flint to tinder. I watch the land glow and the sky burn. And I step through it with a judicious tread.
I pass from Elmet bereft.
Jesus Christ!  Right????  Although, to be honest, I personally do not like the otherwise over-all style of this book which is heavily stylized prose composed of short, Hemingway-esque sentences in the past tense.  It reminded me of Kazuo Isiguro's Never Let Me Go which I really, really hated.  But, he just won the goddamn Nobel Prize for literature, so what do I know? But, I mean, look at this:
We arrived home and Daddy went straight out into the woods with his tools. The shell of our house was sealed tight against the winter but the insides remained rough. Daddy was working on the lining and on the floors. Wood was the material he used as much as he could. It was right there in the copse. Trees of different ages and different kinds.
I mean, honestly.  However, unlike Isiguro's much lauded novel which goes absolutely nowhere, Mozley's book is building to this completely bonkers ending that I am still mildly in shock about several days later.  Also, it cannot be forgotten that what's she's doing is building upon a great literary tradition and drawing connections between people who occupied her country in the 5th century to the way we live today, bringing up important questions like what it means to inhabit a land... what is "home"... the role of collective history and memory, and what is it that composes our very society?

It's pretty much worth reading just for that insane ending, if you enjoy being tortured by literature and then literally shocked out of your senses and... who doesn't, amiright?

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