The Sunday Times Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick Shortlist: Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Cover imageFiona 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.

12 thoughts on “The Sunday Times Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick Shortlist: Elmet by Fiona Mozley

  1. Naomi

    I’m going to read this for sure sometime soon – it sounds so much like something I’d like.
    Have fun at the bloggers’ event (which I would also love to hear about)!!

    Reply
  2. JacquiWine

    Of all the titles that have been shortlisted for various prizes over the last couple of years, this is the one that interests me the most. I wish Radio 4 would cover it in their Book at Bedtime / Book of the Week slot as their audio readings seem to be the most effective way for me to ‘consume’ newly published books these days!

    Reply
  3. heavenali

    I really enjoyed this when I read it last year. I was a bit taken aback by the brutality toward the end but the writing is beautiful, and the story has really stayed with me.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I think I might have skimmed that bit had I not been a shadow judge but I’m pathetically squeamish and, you’re right, the brutality is offset by the beauty of the writing.

      Reply
  4. Annabel (AnnaBookBel)

    So lovely to finally meet you at the blogger’s event. I started reading Elmet on the train home, and finished it this morning. Wow! It was worth the hype after all, although I’m not convinced by the paperback cover compared with the original’s lovely painting.

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      It was lovely to meet you, too, Annabel. Such an enjoyable event! I agree with you about that cover. Presumably the paperback jacket designer was told to play up the darkness of the novel.

      Reply
  5. buriedinprint

    This is one that I borrowed once, but there were too many other loans which arrived at the same time, so I will have to try again. Sounds like it’s well worth the extra effort though. How nice that the shadow reading ensured you stuck through the end!

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Well, we had a laugh at the meeting when I confessed I’d skimmed the gut churning scene then had to go back only to find that, for reasons I can’t really go into to avoid a spolier, it wasn’t as bad as my fevered mind had concocted!

      Reply
      1. buriedinprint

        Heheh Isn’t that actually how it usually goes – that what we imagine (when stressed) is far worse than what really unfolded. Nice to see that it was worth another look! (And thanks for avoiding the spoilers, of course.)

        Reply

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