Author: Fiona Mozley
Genre: Fiction, Gothic
Elmet, the debut novel of 29-year old Ph.D scholar Fiona Mozley, is a world in itself. It sweeps across a haunting and beautiful landscape and tells the story of an unlikely family and their strong bonding.
I picked up Elmet when it arrived in the pile of the Booker shortlisted books. This light book packs quite a punch by way of language and world building.
Elmet was a kingdom in the early middle ages, in what is now northern England. Elmet is also said to have been mentioned in early Welsh poetry; the landscape described, reminded me of the wonderful classic, ‘How green was my valley’ by Richard Llewellyn.
Elmet starts with a run and a search across the country. It then backtracks into telling us the story of John, the fighter, usually on the other side of the law and his children, Cathy and Daniel. They live on the fringes of the society, fending for themselves. However, a landlord intrudes upon their world and thus begins the fight to reclaim their home. The family stays close, fighting for each other, even when all seems lost.
What I liked
Elmet is an unfamiliar setting of wild Yorkshire landscape, but the excellent description brought it to life.
The characters of John and Cathy, his spitting image in body and spirit are delineated very well. Daniel, with his proclivity to Viviene and learning and to a warm home is a sensitive portrayal.
The physicality of people plays a prominent role. There is John, a veritable giant with calcified fingers and knuckles. Viv has wide hips that Cathy hates, perhaps because it is an indication of what Cathy herself would become one day.
What I did not like
Elmet starts with a languid description and the setting is perfectly built. However the characters are brought out very slowly.
Many characters are not explained at all. We never know what troubles John so much or how he could have been more honest. The mother and her comings and goings, remains a mystery. Viviene is another inexplicable character and I could not understand her disinterest or motivations.
Many situations in the book are not seen through. The uprising of the serfs against their master had a promise that was never fulfilled. The child, Daniel, grows up suddenly after his father’s desertion. The transition is a little abrupt. The 14 year old has a language that is beyond his years and his knowledge.
Also, there is very little dialogue in the book. Elmet plods through a lot of description.
There are so many ways in which I felt shortchanged and yet Elmet is like life and like people; flawed but beautiful in its imperfection.
This debut novel about an inaccessible world, familial loyalty and the impact of unfettered violence on lives is beautiful. Highly recommended.