Violence and freedom in the Yorkshire countryside: Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Elmet is an unusual and captivating novel about family and place and the boundaries of society. Daniel is trying to get north, having left the home in the woods he lived in with his Daddy and sister Cathy. Once, Daniel and Cathy went to school and lived with their Granny, but then they left for the woods, free to be their own people. Their sanctuary has turned hostile, with the house built for them by their Daddy’s own hands under threat from local landowners.
Mozley’s novel is embedded in the Yorkshire countryside, a place that is Daniel and his family’s home, sustenance, and friend. The descriptions of it are raw and breathing, presenting the land as something not romanticised or boring, but a place of hard life and toughly-fought reward. The majority of the characters are poor and often transient or avoiding the system, and the landscape is shown as a place that can offer if not neutral then less established ground. Though it is a novel about family and countryside, it is also highly political in a way and steeped in class issues, with unscrupulous landowners ripping off ordinary people, and it shows one family’s attempt to live outside the usual political and social system.
Elmet is a raw and exciting book that should be read even by those who don’t think they like novels set in the countryside. It is also an important reminder that books set in the England beyond London need to be written, ones that show rural issues whilst telling stories of varied characters and lives.