Elmet possesses a rich and unfussy lyricism. Simple, homely food – baked potatoes and cups of tea – are described in such a way as to provoke longing. Dialect is put on the page with a deft touch ... If there are minor deviations from an enveloping inevitability of tone and plot they come when the politics of gender or class are explicitly voiced through characters in whom they are already implicit. The obverse of this is that wickedness can be left slightly undersketched. The most potent sections of the narrative, such as a scene in which collective resistance is inspired at a gathering round a bonfire, free characters from the burden of didacticism. Elmet belongs to a strain of northern British gothic that mirrors the variety that has long held sway in the southern states of the US. The gothic has always returned to us what we repress, whether that be monks hiding in priest holes or bodies buried in swamps. Those who have been socio-economically repressed – fighting men, former squaddies, Travellers – resurge in this rich, fabular novel, as does something more radical and doomed: a pre-capitalist morality. The embedding of such myths in the language and landscape of Hughes, dragged down from the moorland and into the woods, makes for a scarred, black gem.
Mozley’s language is often subtle, but her protagonist is not. Physically, John might as well be Jack Reacher ... Debut novels especially can sometimes too clearly betray their debts, but Elmet is a beguiling patchwork of influences held together by Mozley’s distinct voice ... 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. Mozley’s characters sometimes say things they would never say; Price’s villainy is too pure; the story’s political complexities about property ownership and labor are too efficiently reduced. But 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.
Mozley’s first novel thrums with all the energy and life of the forests that surround the family ... Rhythmic and lilting, the writing is dreamily poetic without being overwrought ... At the heart of the novel’s dramatic climax lies a dispute about property, about land divvied up and hacked to pieces, how borders are defined and how houses become homes. This is geopolitics played out on a small but no less powerful stage ... Elmet is a rich and earthy tale of family life, sibling relationships, identity, how we define community and the power struggles inherent to so many different dynamics. Above all, it is a meditation on ownership — of people, animals and places — and the fact that these notions, however seemingly fixed, are all in a constant state of flux.
Elmet is slow and languorous, a novel almost lacking in plot until a third of the way through when it’s revealed that Daniel’s father does not own the land he has cleared in order to build his family’s house … While Mozley’s prose is rich in details, bringing the Yorkshire setting vividly to life, the novel’s loose plot and tendency to repeat narrative beats will tax some readers’ patience. Elmet is a novel to read for the pleasure of sharp details and of painting a complete picture of an uncommon life.
The destructive confrontation that Ms. Mozley stages between these two characters brims with primal, folkloric power. Price, a man with ‘cut glass teeth and scarlet gums,’ is a superbly malevolent villain … Ms. Mozley is eager to showcase her writing chops, with the result that the prose can become terribly clotted with poeticisms … Ms. Mozley understands the novel’s unique ability to depict the collective.
Elmet is a measured yet fiery debut that addresses epic violence, overturns gender expectations, and traces the coming-of-age of Daniel, a skinny, tender young man. The story weaves in and out of flash-forwards, which pop up often enough to lend the story a consistent sense of creep … Overall, Elmet glows as a heartbreaking and surprising contemporary Gothic novel. Original and sympathetic, the novel centralizes violence not as gratuitous fluff but as a necessary fact of life.
...a dark, rich, timeless fable … The main narrative of the novel is routinely intercut with short sections — italicized, vignette-sized — each an update on Daniel’s search for a missing Cathy. We come to read with mounting dread, bracing ourselves for a devastating conclusion. Mozley doesn’t disappoint … Elmet is bleak but beautiful, earthy yet airy.
One of the surprises on Britain’s Man Booker Prize shortlist last year was Elmet, the fine debut novel from Fiona Mozley. 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 ... The escalation of these nuisances constitutes much of Elmet’s drama. The gothic violence of the later pages is out of step with the earlier tone, but Elmet paints a memorable picture of fraught familial relationships and the perils of revenge.
... a dark and delicate fairy-tale of contemporary Britain ... Narrated with almost fanatical precision by Daniel, the 14-year-old son, the book draws readers into the family’s 'strange, sylvan otherworld' on the margins of society ... Each carefully chosen detail illuminates the novel’s themes of violence and exploitation. Yet far from being bleak, Elmet is beautiful. Ms Mozley writes with clarity and insight, and her descriptions of the natural world and human relationships are both specific and profound. Alongside the pervasive brutality there is innocence, intimacy and love ... With very few missteps, this accomplished novel builds to a devastating conclusion. Like another great work about a family on the margins, Housekeeping, the 1980 debut by Marilynne Robinson, Elmet is a quiet explosion of a book, exquisite and unforgettable. It is hard not to feel that at 29, Ms Mozley has only just begun.