Gothic tale of a syl­van fam­ily

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BOOKS - MAR­GARET MAD­DEN

FIC­TION El­met

Fiona Mo­z­ley JM Orig­i­nals €12.99

AN epi­graph from Ted Hughes’s Re­mains of El­met ex­plains that “El­met was the last in­de­pen­dent Celtic king­dom in Eng­land… a sanc­tu­ary for refugees from the law”. Fiona Mo­z­ley sets her Man Booker Prize short­listed de­but novel in the vast York­shire coun­try­side, where 14-yearold Daniel lives with his older sis­ter, Cathy, and their fa­ther, a for­mer bare-knuckle fighter (“He fought at bouts that were arranged for money, [with] trav­ellers or gyp­sies, rough farm­ers, crim­i­nals from the towns, own­ers of un­der­ground nightclubs and bars, drug deal­ers and thugs”).

They live on the out­skirts of so­ci­ety, in a home that Daddy built from scratch. “Our copse pro­vided the ma­te­ri­als we needed and an un­du­lant ter­rain in which to run and hide… this was our strange syl­van oth­er­world... He wanted to keep us sep­a­rate, in our­selves, apart from the world.”

Their ba­sic home is built on land be­long­ing to lo­cal land­lord Mr Price, who holds the whole area to ran­som with his high rents and threat of evic­tion. “Mr Price de­tested that which he could not con­trol. We lived here on his doorstep yet he had no ac­cess to our lives. We did not pay him rent, we did not work for him, we did not owe him any favours. And so he feared us. Daddy said that to Mr Price peo­ple were like wasps zip­ping around his head, ready to sting at any mo­ment.”

Daddy sees no harm in claim­ing the un­used copse as the fam­ily home­stead. They are do­ing no harm. They hunt with hand-carved bows and ar­rows, they for­age for food in the woods and de­pend on the kind­ness of lo­cal mer­chants for ad­di­tional sup­plies. Gen­der roles are re­v­ersed, with sen­si­tive Daniel tak­ing on the tra­di­tion­ally fem­i­nine du­ties and Cathy be­com­ing the strong, hunter-gath­erer. The com­mu­nity be­gins to fight back against the cor­rup­tion of cap­i­tal­ism and de­cide on a rent-freeze, with Daddy help­ing to pro­tect the ten­ants from Mr Price’s burly bailiffs. Things take a nasty turn and Daddy is is­sued with an ul­ti­ma­tum which could af­fect the fam­ily’s fu­ture.

With sub­tle col­lo­quial dia­logue and vi­brant de­scrip­tive pas­sages, this is an evoca­tive read, which de­serves at­ten­tion.

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