Count Elmet (Amazon) by Fiona Mozley as an unexpectedly beautiful read, a tender tome of family and loyalty.
As with the other titles on the Man Book Prize, I wouldn’t have explored this book if it weren’t for my #FinestFiction reading challenge. This felt a little like reading Autumn by Ali Smith, to go beyond the first few pages for a book filled with luminosity, to find ways to just stay with it. And I’m glad that I stayed with it; otherwise, I wouldn’t have met the intense family of three.
Right from the start, what slowly pulled me in was the narrator. There are two narratives in the story, one told in the present, a person on the run, while the other weaves a fabric, draws the roots. The narrator of both stories is lonesome boy named Daniel, the son of Daddy and sister of Cathy, quiet in his ways, different from other kids like his sister.
The family lived in the outskirts of town atop a hill, away from everybody else in their village. Daddy provided for the family by performing odd jobs for different people, at times marred by violence, with prize fights every now and then. He always won. People put bets on him, and many more made money out of his victories. At the end of the day, there’s Cathy, Daddy and Daniel.
Living outside the realms of what “normal” is, him and Cathy were often bullied by other children. On one occasion where Cathy fought back, she was reprimanded and got in trouble instead of the boys who mocked and bothered them. Daddy was somber when he was told.
While Daddy used the strength he had with his hands, he raised his two children in ways that spoke of tenderness, a mild-mannered approach that contoured his roughness when he was with them.
There were many moments of quiet beauty in the family, in spite of the danger that hovered over their land and their lives. They were seen as outcasts, in a town that was beholden to a rich businessman who controlled many of the place’s business and residential holdings.
The joy that permeated their lives was not the grand kind, it was an unstudied happiness in the little things. It is almost enviable at some point, this family who had reins on how they lived their lives, away from everyone, surrounded by trees, each a haven for the other. This book is a lesson in the different ways we see things.
This book reminded me of books like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I never read the novels because they were too eerie for me, but I saw the film renditions which gave me ideas. Elmet can be classified as a pseudo-thriller, but also a Southern Gothic literature although it is not American.
It’s been weeks since I finished the novel, and it is right up there in my top three for winning the Man Booker Prize. Give it a read, and tell me what you think.
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Elmet (Amazon) by Fiona Mozley
JM Originals (311 pages)
August 10, 2017 (UK Edition)
My rating: ★★★★
Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.