Fiona Mozley's debut novel has made waves in the book world, first shortlisted for the Booker Prize and now on the Women's Prize longlist.
The novel is a reimagining of Wuthering Heights as a contemporary rural noir. Our narrator is the young Danny, who lacks agency and largely relates the actions of his intimidating father and wild sister Cathy. The tale mired in rural poverty, with every aspect of their well described daily lives entailing hard labour and imbued with struggle. Daniel paints a picture of his father as a broken man, but one who is darkly superhuman, with violence hanging heavily over him. Cathy grows up in her father's footsteps, unaware of her womanhood until the attentions of local boys thrust it upon her.
Mozley offers a bleak look at impoverished communities in the countryside, drawing on the classic gothic novel, both establishing a sense of Yorkshire, embellishing the bleakness of the character's lives, and setting up the noir atmosphere of the book. The characters are well painted, with huge complexity seen in our narrator, but through little insight of his own - instead drawn through interactions. Likewise, we get a sense of Cathy and 'Daddy' less through being told of their character, than watching their lives through the eyes of the narrator. Cathy burns like wildfire - uncensored by social norms, she is unaware of bodily shame in the purest way, and it hurts to see her exposed to the brutality of outside society. At first the reader may be quick to judge the living situation of these children and the way their father is raising them, yet it is aspects such as this, and the love and care this father shows his children, which forces us to question whether our ideals are really 'ideal'.
Elmet is an incredible achievement as a first novel and is well deserving of a nomination for the Women's Prize for Fiction.
- This review was first published on the author's own blog See Orange