“Elmet” is an extraordinarily dark and deeply disturbing tragedy touching upon the cruelty of people to each other, with sporadic glimpses of and nods to the strength of family.
The novel is set in rural England, although precisely where (Elmet?) is never made clear. The story begins with a brother traveling in search of his sister. He is disheveled, hungry and weary. This is Daniel. As Daniel searches for his sister Cathy, he is slowly telling his family’s story.
Daniel, Cathy and “Daddy” live in a forest, where Daddy is singlehandedly building their house. “Daddy was king. A foot taller than the tallest of [other] men. Daddy was gargantuan. Each of his arms was as thick as two of theirs. His fists were near the size of their heads. Each of them could have sat curled up inside his rib cage like a fetus in a mother’s womb.”
Cathy and Daniel had lived with their grandmother in a house and had attended school until their grandmother died and their mother disappeared. Daddy became the sole parent at that time.
Daddy did not make a living in a traditional way. He was a fighter and no one could beat him. At times he was also an enforcer. There was nothing conventional about the three of them together. Cathy and Daniel did not go to school after their grandmother died and Daddy arranged for them to spend their mornings with Vivien, who taught them as best she could. Vivien was older, attractive and sophisticated. The relationship between Vivien and Daddy was unclear.
Daddy built the house on the land of an evil landowner, Mr. Price. “Mr. Price was the sort of man who accelerated his car when pedestrians crossed the road.” Mr. Price was one of a number of landowners who was taking advantage of the poor rural workers. Daddy and a former union leader came together to help the workers, but for very different reasons. Daddy’s interest was to bring down Mr. Price.
Mr. Price came to visit Daddy to express his unhappiness with the house and land situation. Mr. Price came to visit a second time with his two spoiled prep school sons in tow. The physical and sexual threat was palpable. The third time Mr. Price came to visit it was to suggest that if Daddy would fight and win another big fight, Mr. Price would deed the land to Daniel. Daddy did his part and Mr. Price deeded the land.
Shortly after the fight, one of Mr. Price’s sons was found dead. Things really spiral out of control then.
The book is dark and cruel. There is some intermittent kindness, but always temporary and fraught with selfishness. The book is well written but with some torturous descriptions. Despite its violence, the story is gripping and makes for a good first novel. The novel was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. I look forward to her next. You can reserve this novel at The Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.