A dark, crepuscular and gripping Yorkshire thriller about family and loyalty that is timeless, lyrical and immensely satisfying.
Genre: Fiction, Gothic Noir, Yorkshire Noir, Thriller
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Review in one word: Stygian
This debut book by Fiona Mozley was short-listed to win the Booker Prize in 2017 and it is easy to see why. This book catches you in its lyrical groove, hypnotises you and doesn’t let go, I read it in two enraptured sittings.
There are elements of the modern day in this novel, but the story and setting feels ageless. It could even be a Victorian novel if it wasn’t for the occasion reference to a microwave or a car. The narrator of the story is son Daniel whose exact age is vague but one can guess he is in his early teens. He explains the movements and oscillations of his father, John but known mostly as ‘Daddy’ and his slightly older sister Cathy. Both are strong characters who loom large in the story in unique ways. Daniel is a more passive and feminine presence in relation to them. Later in the story it is revealed that he’s trans.
John and the children lovingly build their own house deep in a wild wood nearby to the village of Elmet. Together, they hunt, forage and live off the land – happy to be left alone by their world. In the past, their father John who is a gigantic strong man which inspires awe and fear in his community was once the local hired muscle for different illegal enterprises. He also carved out a living by winning illegal fights with his fists.
John longs for the quiet and blameless life on his own land and in his own home, living peacefully with his children. The three are outcasts, living on the fringes and not accepted in the world.
Disturbance of this dream comes in the form of a greedy, unscrupulous and entitled landlord who has an ancient beef with John. I can’t give away anything more without giving away the plot of the book.
“He was a human, and the gamut upon which his inner life trilled ranged from the translucent surface to beyond the deepest crevice of any sea.”― Elmet
This is a beautifully lyrical book with many exquisite turns of phrase. It’s the kind of book that you can sink into like a sumptuous sofa or a velveteen bathrobe…it’s just…cosy. Although the turning of events becomes more intense as the book goes on – I will not give away how exactly.
Just enjoy this book for its thrilling, clear-eyed and vivid descriptions of Yorkshire and all of its raw, wild and gothic beauty.
“Sometimes I think spirit’s dead and gone, but sometimes I think it’s still there, just resting its eyes.”― Elmet
The only drawback I could see was that the characters could be a bit poorly drawn in places, I would have liked more physical description of the two children to imagine them better. The vivid physical descriptions seemed to be reserved only for their muscly, brawny father and seemed to jump off the page. It loses one star because of this.
However, I would not miss this book for the world and heartily recommend it if you want a satisfying read. This is like a novel-length fable or gothic fairy tale.