Elmet by Fiona Mozley is almost subtle in its brilliance. Each sentence is crafted with care, and the atmosphere of the isolated British setting expands throughout the entire novel until you’re completely saturated in dark woods and cloudy skies and homemade houses.
This is Mozley’s debut novel, which is both incredible and intimidating; Elmet was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2017. As one of the most prominent prizes in the bookish world, this nomination speaks both to Elmet’s relevance, skill, and importance.
Although this book is set in the modern world, its style and atmosphere feel ancient or old fashioned, but not in a negative way. Daniel, his sister, Cathy, and their father have moved away from the modern world, into a house that Daddy built for them. The conflict in the novel begins when the men who “own” the land start to meddle in their lives in order to get them leave. Daniel and Cathy have to come to terms with the fact that their father may not resemble the god-like image that they have crafted for themselves, and have to learn how to interact with the outside world that they have been protected from.
Elmet looks at how the attempt to escape from the modern world mixes with the rules and regulations that contemporary society places on its citizens. It plays with the constraints of manhood, and how a father and son can be related, and yet have completely different personalities and hobbies and dreams. The novel comments on the discussion of who is allowed to own land: The people that live on and take care of it, or the people that claim the right of ownership because they have the correct paperwork?
This was the first book that I read in 2017, and it was the perfect start to the new year. Mozley’s prose glides and sings with style and skill, but it doesn’t milk its own excellence. The character’s grab your heart from the beginning, but they aren’t without their own flaws. The plot is full of themes of justice and hatred and violent love, but it never soars over realms of disbelief. Elmet has some slow, quiet moments, that may not be for everyone, but I believe that these pockets of silent power should not be overlooked: this is where Mozley shines.
I cannot wait to see what Mozley comes up with next, and I would recommend this book to anyone who loves beautiful prose, complex descriptions of nature, and powerful themes of social justice.