I was expecting to love Fiona Mozley’s Elmet; it sounded like just my kind of book. I favour quiet novels with brooding settings, and characters who come to life on the page, and expected all of these elements to be present here. As with many readers, I expect, my interest within Elmet was piqued when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2017.
It is rather a slow novel, and I have no problem at all with that, but Elmet did not sweep me away anywhere near as much as I had hoped it would. I found a few anomalies within the prose, discrepancies with small details which were a little more obvious than they perhaps would have been had the novel been packed with plot points.
I found some of Mozley’s writing, particularly during the passages in italicised text, achingly beautiful, but other sentences were too choppy and matter-of-fact for there to feel as though there is a balance here. An example of the latter is as follows: ‘We left the house soon after. A girl, a boy, two men. Hungover, half-asleep. We stopped for a quick breakfast at a bakery on the High Street. In the mornings it served bacon, sausage and egg sandwiches. I had bacon then asked Daddy if I could have an iced bun like a shy child with a sweet tooth. He paid 50p for three.’ I feel, with such passages, that the reader is party to far too much information; yes, it is admirable that Mozley recognises and writes about the minutiae of life, but the narrative becomes bogged down with trivialities like this, which add nothing whatsoever to the novel. The detailed descriptions of the natural world are often stunning, but I was not so interested in the detailed depictions of what people were wearing in every scene, or of tiny movements which they made. It felt like I was being given an endless commentary, which made the novel something close to dull at times in consequence.
I have mixed feelings about Elmet. Whilst I can understand why other readers love it, it simply did not come together for me in the way which I would have liked. I felt little connection with most of the characters, and whilst the bleakness of the mood which settles onto the novel has been built and handled so well, it was not enough to lift the whole for me.