Lestat's Reviews > Elmet

Elmet by Fiona Mozley
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did not like it
bookshelves: kinda-wish-i-hadn-t

** spoiler alert ** You know how there's always that one reviewer for every book who appears to vindictively break the status quo? Well, today that's me, because I can't believe the Man Booker made me waste time on this book. These past couple years I have enjoyed catching up on the Man Booker longlist and shortlist - despite not having gone through entire lists, they have provided substantial literary pause for reflection during the year. This year has been markedly different; several of the longlist sounded worthy of grabbing the title but wound up by the wayside. The eventual shortlist, from their summaries at least, have been the least inspiring in a few years - the majority appear to be harking back to a time that none of us can relate to without much commentary on today's society (I could be wrong and they could be great, but let the summaries tell me that first). I wonder if that's the quality on display, or my general jaded outlook to consumable media nowadays.

'Elmet' is a book that, from the outset, is positioning itself as out-there and edgy. There is a general air of mystery with the gothic rural landscape and the isolation of the main characters. The protagonist Daniel, his sister Cathy and their father live alone in a house built on someone else's land. Theirs is a rough and rugged living. The story takes place when the landowner (rightly) asks for his land back. To come to a decision, Price, the landowner, challenges the father to a boxing match with one of his champions - think Rocky, condensed to two pages and with full on extravagant nonsense on the side.

There's a little of everything in the book but the substance is undone by poor writing and the attempt at edginess. The narrator is Daniel, yet his narration reads nothing like his speech patterns written in the dialogue. You also have the problem of all the characters stopping to provide blow-by-blow accounts of how they saw something or were told something. In our daily lives, we regale those around us with stories of interesting incidents by padding them up with backstory, place and atmosphere. I would understand the inclusion of such dialogue in these situations. But, when someone has robbed you or you've come to the rescue of a distressed boy, I would not expect anyone to do this.

I saw the fire last night, all the way from my house. At first I thought it was a bonfire and wondered why I hadn’t been told so that I could come up. And then I saw that it was too big. Far too big to be a bonfire. And I put on my coat and left the house and began to walk up the track. The wind was blowing in my face, so the smoke was too. Directly at me. For a while I stopped being able to see the flames, the smoke was so thick. But then I got closer, as close as I could get against heat, and saw your house. It was on fire. And I saw you...

Imagine a teenaged boy going through a harrowing night of death and destruction, and being found the following day, only to be faced with this? This, when he's obviously wondering who of his family has survived.

The writer makes an attempt at showcasing gender and identity politics, but doesn't go far enough to address or comment on it. We are unsure of Daniel's orientation, and it is suggested that he has an encounter with another man - though what for and why still eludes me as it's not evidently for pleasure. It seems like none of the boys in this book's universe know what a healthy relationship with a woman is, and Cathy, being the only female character in the book is the target. It is implied the Price boys may have assaulted her, and one gets his comeuppance, but what doesn't work is the contrived manner the final act plays out. There's no point in just showing us the gender issues of the world if you cannot subvert it.

In the beginning of the book, child-Cathy is beaten up and harassed by older schoolboys - she is brought up to the principal's office for hitting back, but her father does not support or bring up the reason for her defence. I don't know why the father was so defeatist in this particular situation, given that it's his daughter and he's beaten up other people for less. It is insinuated that Price had something to do with their mother's unstable nature (but of course, it's not like she was just unhappy and didn't want this life), so one could equate the father's inaction to a certain kind of fear.

Later, when things have become dire, Cathy explains to Daniel that the Price boys have been pursuing her (and probably more) and she killed one of them because she couldn't let him do it again. These boys have been after her for years and she tells her brother that she wouldn't go to her father because he had a lot on his mind and she didn't want to trouble him or spend her life apologising for her body. Okay, good point, but given what happens in the final act, this is typical false logic employed by writers trying to write themselves out of a hole. I'm being harsh, but I can't help it. I'm tired of every piece of media being reduced to a young, slim woman coping and dealing with sexual assault. Come on! There are more stories out there to tell without making assault a gimmick or a convenient tragedy that the victim can 'turn off' from. The writer makes Cathy sound like an expert at experiencing assault, which baffles me - why would you write a character like this if not to make a comment on the plight of women?

Cathy becomes a virtual superhuman at the end, breaking through her bonds and setting fire to the bad guys. I am honestly frustrated by the insistence on using rape as a plot device. This book often called to mind the worst parts of last year's Booker shortlist - I may be in the minority, but 'His Bloody Project' and 'Eileen', the books this one appears to be spawned from, were mediocre in their attempts to push the boundaries of comfort, and this book somehow tops that.

Reading this just makes me think that publishers have hit upon the formula that the Man Booker is addicted to and will keep producing trollop that does society and women no justice. You know what this book reminded me of? Those B-movies with bad characterisations and worse sexual politics that you read articles about and can't believe someone spent actual money making. And to think, this book is written by a woman! What is this world coming to?
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Reading Progress

September 27, 2017 – Started Reading
September 27, 2017 – Shelved
October 8, 2017 – Shelved as: kinda-wish-i-hadn-t
October 8, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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Rosh This review is so spot on. I was nodding my head like a maniac with every sentence. This book does seem like a woke boi equivalent of literature world. Addressing every cause that makes you appear 'woke' from gender fluidity to women empowerment to homosexuality without actually giving any meaningful analysis or depth.

Royce Houthuijzen Thank you, Rosh for posting Lestat s review. sorry for some reason I can't put an apostrophe between the t and the s. But anyway, I just finished reading Elmet and thought I was missing something. I didn't really care for the writing. It went on and on, but not in a good way. And, I had a difficult time relating to any of the characters at all. Thanks for your review!

Lestat @Royce and @Rosh thank you for both your comments. Good to know I’m not the only one who felt that way.

Lestat @Chris - that’s an interesting angle I hadn’t thought of. I think that would have made a better book (though the writing was still lacking) and may have felt less contrived than the finished product.

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