2017 Man Booker Shortlist: Elmet
Today is going to be a busy day on the blog because I’ve procrastinated and still have to post our last two books and our predictions for winner. Today we’ll cover Elmet and 4321 then will end the day by posting our winner predictions. Our panel will be giving their thoughts on each of the nominated shortlist books. We’ll tell you briefly what we think of the book, the reasons we think it might win, and the reasons why it might not win. Here are our thoughts for Elmet by Fiona Mozley. Keep reading to see what we think about whether it will be our 2017 Man Booker winner.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Published: (US publication date): August 2017
Our panel’s extended reviews: Elmet
Find it/buy it here: Elmet
Amazon Synopsis: In this atmospheric and profoundly moving debut, Cathy and Daniel live with their father, John, in the remote woods of Yorkshire, in a house the three of them built themselves. John is a gentle brute of a man, a former enforcer who fights for money when he has to, but who otherwise just wants to be left alone to raise his children. When a local landowner shows up on their doorstep, their precarious existence is threatened, and a series of actions is set in motion that can only end in violence. Steeped in the natural world of northern England, this is a lyrical commentary on the bonds of siblings and fatherhood, and on the meaning of community in the modern world. Elmet marks the launch of a major new voice in literary fiction.
Jen’s Thoughts: This is the book I least want to win the prize. I did really like the first half of the book. I found it haunting and an interesting portrayal of a certain lifestyle. I also loved the strength of the female character. But… I really disliked the last third. I found that part melodramatic and frankly quite unbelievable and silly — a strict contrast to the rest of the book. Any of you ever watch True Blood? The ending of this book for some reason reminded me of that scene when Lillith comes out of the pool of blood for the first time.
Why it could win: It’s listed third in the betting odds for taking home the prize. It contains great descriptions of the the landscape and family lifestyle. It is also filled with gender and class commentary.
Why it might not win: It’s a debut novel and while debut novels sometimes win, the prize usually goes to more established authors. It shouldn’t win. The other books on the list are stiff competition and superior to this book.
Book Worm’s Thoughts: This is not my favourite book on the shortlist but it is the one I think the judges will choose.
Why it could win: This is a novel packed with controversy and going by previous years the judges love controversy. It is also a book by a relatively unknown author and I think that will be considered when judging.
Why it might not win: While I did enjoy the novel I personally didn’t find it that mind blowing. I also had issues with the narrators voice, for me it just didn’t sit right with the rest of the story and the family/social dynamic shown in the novel.
Nicole’s Thoughts: I enjoyed this book from start to finish and the characters kicked butt.
Why it could win: Because it’s a complete dark horse.
Why it might not win: As much as I loved it, it’s flawed and there were much strong books on the list.
Anita’s Thoughts: Even though I really panned this book in my review, I have to say I did enjoy reading it more than Autumn. There’s something more to it than meets the eye. But it was hard for me to be fair to it because the ending was just way over the top.
Why It Could Win: This book represents a fresh UK-based voice and that might be enough to win.
Why It Might Not Win: Personally, if this doesn’t win, I blame the editors. Eliminate the inconsistencies and reel in the ending a bit, and I think this one could have been more of a contender.
We want to hear from you. Have you read it? What did you think? Do you think it will win the 2016 Man Booker?
I for one sincerely hope the Man Booker judges do not allow this book to win, but to me it feels like that kind of a year. And Elmet does push a lot of convenient buttons.
There was a point in the novel when the villain, Mr. Price, commands one of his lackeys to take Kathy away:
“[The lackey] reached out a gloved hand and stroked her neck. ‘I’ll shut her up,’ he stated blankly.
“Good,” replied Mr. Price. ‘Take her to the next room and do whatever you wish. And I mean whatever you wish. Make the most of her.'”
I mean, really, how far away from moustache-twiddling are we, here?
And then she’s naked with a (homemade??) flamethrower?!?
While the book may have captured *something* about *something*, what did it really have to say? What are we left with? What is there to ponder? A “badass” last scene means very little if there is no deeper profundity behind it than “Kathy was being a kick-ass feminist.” What does Elmet add to the conversation of other great novels? Of great metaphor or allegory? Or is it just saying things we’ve already heard, rehashed in a way that, more than anything else, appeals to our sense of artistic vanity?
Is it even, in any way, an authentic recreation of the lives of the poor? Coming from an impoverished community myself, I found the characterization to be one-dimensional at best, highly insulting at worst. Poor people are not metaphors to be inserted into an allegory to prove an artistic point or garner a sense of sentimental pity — they are living, breathing people. They are not merely “the exploited.”
In the end, Elmet is nothing more than a 29 year old’s cartoonish musings on things she likely has no real experience of, and no real knowledge of, and I find the lack of authenticity jarring. It’s a sanitized and yet oddly glamourized depiction. What I find more jarring is some readers’ willingness to take Mozley’s infantile ideas as a true artistic meditation on a very complex subject.
And yes, you were not the only one to think of Lilith from True Blood — but I thought True Blood used that image and metaphor to greater effect than Mozley did! The characters in True Blood are also far more realistic and relatable, despite the fact that many of them are vampires and werewolves and shape-shifters! Yikes.
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I agree with you. I don’t think it was meant necessarily to be commentary or representation of poor communities but rather more a representation of a very specific subset of survivalist communities. That said, I agree that even in that it was simplistic and more of a stereotype, especially toward the end.
And True Blood was trying to be intentionally campy whereas this book was not!
Is there really such a subset of survivalist communities in Britain? Your comment reminded me of Doris Lessing’s The Good Terrorist, in which the main character is also a squatter. THAT was a convincing characterization of a desperate survivalist, as well as a comment on history, social forces, war, sexuality, and human nature worthy of the Booker. Elmet pales in comparison – but I guess not all novelists can be Doris Lessing.
True Blood was trying to be campy, but the sense of feminine power and also a kind of sublime shock or even discomfort at seeing this nude figure was more profound and, given the precepts of the plot/situation, more believable. I say again: YIKES.
Does anyone else feel this underlying sense of being led by the nose in the case of Elmet? When judges try to do this, to inform a laymen reading audience what “art” really is, they are also often willing to over-exaggerate their opinions to prove a point. That is the only reason I think the book has a good shot at winning.
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I think this would have been better if it had been e-d-i-t-e-d. It came across as campy, cartoonish almost. I’ll be disappointed if it wins, with so many good books as competition.
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YES!!!! I give the editing a D minus. There’s talent in ‘dem ‘der hills, but it was not mined properly.
The ending is especially egregious.
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I actually read a compelling review about why the ending was clever (you both know that I hated the ending) and how the very intentional ramping up of stuff at the end as a juxtaposition to earlier parts was brilliant. I will look to see if I can find the review. I did not think it was brilliant but the reviewer did make an interesting case
I would love to read that review, Jen. Please do share if you can locate it. Not sure I’m buying it, but super interested to see the case be made.