Elmet (Mozley)

Fiona Mozley, 2017
Algonquin Books
320 pp.

The family thought the little house they had made themselves in Elmet, a corner of Yorkshire, was theirs, that their peaceful, self-sufficient life was safe.

Cathy and Daniel roamed the woods freely, occasionally visiting a local woman for some schooling, living outside all conventions. Their father built things and hunted, working with his hands; sometimes he would disappear, forced to do secret, brutal work for money, but to them he was a gentle protector.

Narrated by Daniel after a catastrophic event has occurred, Elmet mesmerizes even as it becomes clear the family's solitary idyll will not last.

When a local landowner shows up on their doorstep, their precarious existence is threatened, their innocence lost. Daddy and Cathy, both of them fierce, strong, and unyielding, set out to protect themselves and their neighbors, putting into motion a chain of events that can only end in violence.

As rich, wild, dark, and beautiful as its Yorkshire setting, Elmet is a gripping debut about life on the margins and the power—and limits—of family loyalty. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1987-88
Where—York, England, UK
Education—B.A., Ph.D., Cambridge University
Awards—shortlist, Man Booker Prize
Currently—lives in York, England

Fiona Mozley grew up in York, England, and studied at Cambridge. After briefly working at a literary agency in London, she moved back to York to complete a Ph.D, in Medieval Studies. She also has a weekend job at the Little Apple Bookshop in York. Elmet is her first novel and has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
[A] lyrical and mythic work…[Mozley's] story is rooted, actually and tonally, in ancient soil. The mentions, early on, of cars and television sets are surprising, some of the first indicators that we're anywhere north of, say, the 12th century. The successful execution of this bold strategy, to voice a story set in the present day as if it could be happening nearly any time in human history, is just one indicator of Mozley's skill and ambition.… In its signposting and pacing, Elmet promises a reckoning, and we get one. The climactic scene is full of bedlam. It is also cartoonish. One might balk at its outlandishness, or squirm at its vivid, protracted violence, but it keeps your attention and doesn't leave any fireworks unpopped.… Despite the book's frequent attention to realistic details, it is securely situated in fable territory, and Mozley's sheer storytelling confidence sends the reader sailing past almost every speed bump.
John Williams - New York Times Book Review

Thrums with all the energy and life of the forests that surround the family.… Rhythmic and lilting, the writing is dreamily poetic.… Elmet is a rich and earthy tale of family life, sibling relationships, identity, how we define community.
Financial Times (UK)

An impressive slice of contemporary noir steeped in Yorkshire legend.… Elmet possesses a rich and unfussy lyricism.
Guardian (UK)

A stunning debut.… A wonder to behold. An utterly arresting novel about family, home, rural exploitation, violence and, most of all, the loyalty and love of children under siege.
Evening Standard (UK)

[A] magical debut novel. Set in modern-day Yorkshire, this dazzling debut feels steeped in a more primitive, violent past. Teenagers Cathy and Daniel are living self-sufficiently in the woods with their father—until their peaceful existence is threatened by a wealthy landowner. Narrated by 14-year-old Daniel in seductively poetic prose, the book shines a light on the toll of power wielded cruelly, as well as on a countering force: the extraordinary sustenance family devotion can provide.

Lushly written, yet perfectly understated.… What makes this novel stand out … is its dense palette of language, layer upon layer of image and visual description that transports the reader into an almost dreamlike world.
New York Journal of Books

[A] rugged, potent work whose concentrated mixture of lyricism and violence recalls Cormac McCarthy.… [O]verheated scenes of gore and overlong speeches … dissipate the novel’s power.… Mozley is best when describing the tight-knit family in its isolated splendor.
Publishers Weekly

One of the surprises on Britain’s Man Booker Prize shortlist…. American readers now have the chance to experience the novel’s atmospheric writing and its vivid portrait of a family struggling to outrun its past.… Elmet paints a memorable picture of fraught familial relationships and the perils of revenge.

(Starred review.) [P]reternaturally accomplished … riveting and disquieting.… [A] suspenseful family tragedy stoked by social critique, escalated by men’s violence against women, and darkly veined with elements of country noir.

(Starred review.) Part fairy tale, part coming-of-age story, part revenge tragedy with literary connections, Mozley's first novel is a shape-shifting, lyrical, but dark parable of life off the grid in modern Britain. Mozley's instantaneous success . . . is a response to the stylish intensity of her work, which boldly winds multiple genres into a rich spinning top of a tale.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Elmet ... then take off your own:

1. John has almost two different representations in the novel: as "Daddy" to Cathy and Daniel and as a physically bare-knuckled gargantuan of a man. How do his children see him … and how do outsiders see him? How do you see him?

2. The novel is set in contemporary times, but Fiona Mozley locates it in a "strange, sylvan otherworld," a fable-like setting, that evokes ancient Celtic Britain. How does she accomplish this? (Try pointing to passages that establish this near mythic quality.) Why might the author wish to create an otherworldly atmosphere?

3. Danny says his father “wanted to strengthen us against the dark things in the world. The more we knew of it, the better we would be prepared. And yet there was nothing of the world in our lives, only stories of it.” Is he in fact preparing his children to face the world or endangering them?

4. How would you describe the two siblings? Start with Cathy, who describes herself as "angry all the time." Why?

5. Follow-up to Question 4: Talk about Danny, who seems almost the opposite of his sister. While Cathy's strength is underestimated by those who provoke her, Danny admits that he "never thought of [himself] as a man." How does Danny think of himself. How do you think of him?

6. "Mentioning her was so rare that we did not know whether to take it as an invitation or a warning." Where is the children's mother? 

7. Talk about the economic conditions of Elmet and the tinder box of its inequality.

8. What is the back history of John and Price's relationship?

9. What do you think of Vivien? What is her role vis-a-vis the two children? How does she help Daniel to think of his father's tendency toward violence?

10. What are the signposts Mozley offers of the disaster in waiting?

11. Follow-up to Question 2: Even though the novel is based in realism, in what way can Elmet be thought of as a fable? Fables usually end with a moral: is there a lesson, or overarching theme, say, that the author seems to be reaching for in Elmet?

12. Is the ending too overwrought? Too gory? Or does it serve the expectations of the storyline?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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