Nominated for the Booker Prize or I would never have come across it, Elmet opens with an epigraph from Ted Hughes:
“Elmet was the last independent Celtic kingdom in England and originally stretched out over the vale of York … But even unto the seventeenth century this narrow cleft and its side-ginnels, under the glaciated moors, were still a “badlands,’ a sanctuary for refugees from the law.”
Wow! – Okay – see the “Elmet” of history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elmet
by Fiona Mozley
2017 / 312 pages
read by Gareth Bennett Ryan 7h 37m
(both read and listened)
This is an intensely powerful and beautifully written story with a plot line which makes the reader want to both gulp it down and digest every word, both at the same. (A 9.5 is the highest rating I’ll give for my first reading of a relatively new work of fiction.)
Be warned – it gets gritty. The themes are man as a force of nature, love of family, feminism, personal identity, shame, escape and more.
Part I: A 1st person, is stumbling across the land looking for someone referred to only as “she.” At the railroad tracks this narrator chooses to go North because “if she turned South … there is no use.” This person walks and walks, resting and remembering. The font is in italics and section works like a prologue, but isn’t quite that, because it’s really the the first chapter of the frame story which has its own numerical order.
Chapter 1 – The 1st person narrator is telling us about how he, at age 14 and his sister, 15, along with their father, a big hulk of a man, settle a place in the wilderness. It’s back in the woods, the out-back of Yorkshire, somewhere near a 200-year old tree. They build a house there for the three of them and try to live there peacefully amongst their rural neighbors. And this inner story is what goes on in a kind of chronological order of it’s own. This is the main story which the person in the frame is remembering for us. The tension builds because it will lead up to what would cause Cathy to leave like that and for Daniel to follow her –
Mozley captures and holds the tension with a masterful variation of sentence length and the regular use of other punctuation and repetition. And although the time-frame is generally contemporary, the language includes unusual if not archaic words like calor and gamboled while the dialogue is sprinkled with the speech of rural folks: “She wandt very welcoming … I mean, she was and she wandt.”
This might very well make it to my top 10 books of the year.