My latest read was the third of this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist I had read. I picked up a copy of Fiona Mozley’s debut novel, Elmet, after hearing her reading at the shortlist event at the Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham earlier this month.
The story is narrated by Daniel, a teenage boy who from the opening pages we learn is in search of someone. From here we learn about Daniel’s unconventional upbringing in which he lives with his father and his sister Cathy. Their life in the little copse in Elmet is a simple one. Set apart from the rest of the society, they live in a modest home that they built themselves, eating food that they hunt and forage for. Daniel and Cathy’s early life was so different from other children, an existence that worked for them, but not for those who looked upon them. As they lived in the belief that there little world was their own, it becomes clear that there were people out there who could threaten their family life. From the start I was really interested in finding out more about this family, and the events that led to them setting up home on the copse. We see the struggles that Daniel and Cathy faced at school, the loss they suffered, and the bullying they were subjected to. And we see how their Dad tries to shield them from this, as he fights for them, and what he believes in.
I enjoyed watching this story unfold as the family’s life comes under threat from the greed of those who surround them. I enjoyed the lyrical writing style which helped portray their environment which made for an atmospheric read. There were points where I forgot that the narrator was a fourteen-year old boy, his language interspersed with Yorkshire dialect being picked up through his relationship with Vivien, a neighbouring woman who lives in a house filled with books who teaches them. Family relationships are a key theme in this novel. We see the bond between a father and son, and father and daughter. It also explores gender roles in society – Cathy takes after her father, and is willing to fight for what she believes in, and keen to maintain her independence. Daniel on the other hand is less willing to engage in conflict, as he helps maintain the home, and observes the simmering anger that builds within his father. There was a tension in the writing as the story progressed, and the anticipation that the bad blood between their father and the men that wish to take control leads to a surprising and violent turn of events that I did not expect.
Elmet is an impressive debut which kept me gripped throughout. It is an unsettling read which provides insights into issues in society such as class and social standing, poverty and family life and how far a person would go to protect what they value most.