Fiona Mozley’s Elmet has already snagged the attention of several literary prize judges: it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this year and shortlisted for 2017’s Man Booker Prize. Set on the fringes of what was once a mining village, it’s about Daniel and Cathy whose father has built a house on land owned by a ruthless landlord.
Daniel and Cathy have lived in the copse close to the railway since Granny Morely died when Daddy was out on one of his trips to who knows where. Cathy’s now just fifteen and Daniel’s fourteen. They no longer go to school, growing vegetables and foraging food alongside their father, a giant of a man who earns money from bare knuckle fights and settling disputes with his fists. Daniel knows very little about their mother, just a few memories of her infrequent visits which suddenly stopped. He wonders about asking Vivien to whom Daddy sends them for a makeshift education. Daniel and Cathy watch and listen, alert to any exchanges between Daddy and the rest of the village. They’re both outsiders but while Daniel is happy to cook and read with Vivien, Cathy takes her cue from her father. When Mr Price turns up, Daddy understands that he’s to have no peace. Together with an ex-miner, Daddy hatches a plan to overthrow this village tyrant ensuring fair wages and rents for all the families in thrall to him. Both know there’s not much hope of success but neither envisage the events that will culminate in Daniel’s desperate quest to find his sister.
Told through Daniel’s childlike voice, Elmet is reminiscent of a fable with the mythical figure of Daddy, the proud giant fiercely protective of his children, at its centre. Underpinning the narrative is a constant menace which contrasts with Daniel’s gentle voice, a menace that explodes into graphic violence at its conclusion in a scene not for the fainthearted. There’s a strong sense of social justice running through this novel. Men are so desperate to supplement their meagre benefits that they’ll work for a pittance; rents are high and evictions commonplace. Power is wielded by the few who mete out their own brutal form of justice. It’s a world where a young woman, confident in her own strength, lives in terror of violence. This is an extraordinarily impressive debut – bleak, beautiful and visceral. I wonder what Mozely will come up with next.
Just one more review as a shadow judge for me – Adam Weymouth’s Kings of the Yukon which I’ll be posting next week. I’m off to the bloggers’ event at the Groucho Club on Saturday then we shadow judges will be getting together on Monday to come up with our winner.
f you’d like to read two of my fellow shadow judges’ reviews of Elmet Paul’s is at HalfManHalfBook and Amanda’s is at Bookish Chat. You can find out more about the award by visiting www.youngwriteraward, following @youngwriteryear or keep up with us shadow judges at #youngwriterawardshadow.