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Title: Elmet

Writer:Fiona Mozley

Publishing House: JM Originals

Date of Publication: August 10th 2017

Rating: 3 stars

”I spend an evening laid out on a moor, watching the wind, the crows, the distant vehicles caught in memories of this same land, further south; earlier, another time; then likewise caught in memories of home, of family, of the shifts and turns in fortune, of beginnings and endings, of caused and consequences.”

A family of three lives in a copse in Yorkshire. A father, a boy and a girl. Isolated, forgotten and forgetting, no mother, no friends, extremely limited human contact. John earns his living in extremely violent circumstances, his children are his sole support. Daniel and Cathy have reversed the roles expected by society. He is a poetic soul, a pacifist, a lover of nature and learning. She is the tomboy, the protector, the one who takes the bull by the horns, a force to make everything right. When their peace is disturbed by a horrible man, the two siblings realize they only have themselves to trust.

 ”Farms can be lonely places. They can be lonely places to have skin torn and bones crushed. They can be lonely places to die.”

Mozley does a terrific job in conveying the woodland atmosphere, the scenery of isolating and willing seclusion from a world that appears threatening. But is it really or do we make it seem so, guided by our own decisions? Can it be that we are that innocent? Our choices can lead to destroying consequences, I appreciated the moral dilemma presented in the story and the harshness of a life that comes withing a setting that many of us would consider idyllic, seen from the point of view of the big city resident.

The folklore of the moors and the woodlands is put to excellent use. The green men with their foliate faces, the wandering hounds, the cries in the night and the fleeting shadows passing through the lower branches, fascinate Daniel and form his strong bond with the land his family calls home. The forest is both a protection and a threat, the light changes as swiftly as John’s mood does. These extracts are characteristic of Mozley’s talent in prose.

”The morning smelt of wood and little else. The summer scents had been bottled by the cold. It was a clear day, though, particularly now when the sun was low, and bright rays cut raw across the grass.”

”We stayed out there for half an hour or so, watching the lanterns, playing with sparklers, smoking and chatting, breathing in the cool woodland air. When we walked back to the house we did so in silence, having already got out all our words for the day.” 

Is beautiful prose enough in a novel? In my opinion, no. I need a strong story and characters. John is an enigma, balancing between violence and tenderness, a huge load of wrong choices and the agony of a single father. Daniel is the voice of reason and the hope of a child. The greatest riddle is Cathy. A complex character, unwilling to trust anyone, brave, ferocious and always ready to protect her family. But the story failed to attract me, eventually. What started as a literary, possible existentialist drama, lost direction towards the middle of the novel and never really recovered, in my opinion. The interactions were weird and too long as the characters practically perform monologues while engaging in an ordinary conversation. It was tiring and distracting. Things became worse when the story became a B-rated Hollywood thriller and the events became too chaotic, too implausible and, at the same time, too predictable.

The prose was beautiful, the setting was powerful, the characters of the family were interesting. But the plot…What it wished to be I don’t know. What I know is that I have read a ton of truly powerful books. This one will soon fade from my memory. It was a good novel, perfectly acceptable and I am glad I read it. Βut that’s it.

”The same old trains still ruffled on past, despite it all. I wondered what the train driver thought, and what the passengers thought, when they looked out the windows as dusk settles and saw our copse, and the crest, and the trail of thin black smoke coming from behind it.”