I got this book from a friend of mine form y birthday in 2017. She decided to go big and bought me the entire 2017 Man Booker Prize shortlist. I am still making my way through it, which clearly explains why I never even try to read any prize shortlist before the results are announced, I just don’t stand a chance.
The book starts with a quote from Ted Hughes’s ‘Remains of Elmet’ (synchronicity does happen to me often, as just before this book I read Grief is a Thing with Feathers by Max Porter where Hughes also played a minor part; the same seems to be happening to me with Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’):
Elmet was the last independent Celtic kingdom in England and originally stretched out over the valley of York… But even into the seventeenth century this narrow cleft and its side-gunnels, under the glaciated moors, were still a ‘badlands’, a sanctuary for refugees from the law’
Daniel, Catchy and their father live in a kind of Elmet. After their mother leaves and their grandmother dies, their father decides to take them away from the town. Earlier, their father would vanish for weeks and randomly come back, leading a life full of violence. After abandoning the town, initially, they live in vans at the ash copse. But gradually together they build a new home. They live mostly off the land, eating things they can hunt or grow. Far from the civilization in an ideal world, but not one without hard work. Closer to nature further from people, for some it may seem idyllic.
After such an introduction we know things cannot last. There is nothing more annoying to society than an idyll built on its fringes. Daniel sees his father as a giant and his sister is wiry but very strong as well. When their father takes them to a friend and a neighbour, Vivian, asking her to become their teacher, things change a bit. At Vivian’s home Daniel discovers another life, one that he may even prefer, but he could not miss it until he saw it.
They live far from people but not far enough and soon trouble comes knocking on their door. They do try to find support in the nearby community, but from the beginning, we know things will not end well. The first time we meet Daniel in the book, he is travelling north, alone, looking for someone…
It is a book about contact with nature and about wanting to escape society. But no man is an island, and neither is any family, no matter how closely knit. To be honest, I did not like this book too much. It was readable, but the passages about nature felt a bit forced, or overly poetic. The story didn’t feel believable and I could not buy into the characters.
I just could not grasp the point of this book and the plot itself was not enough to justify it. So that’s that, I rarely write bad reviews, but here there is little that I liked. On the other hand, I did read worse books in my life so it may be down to me having too high expectations from a Man Booker Prize shortlisted title. As a debut novel, it does show potential.
Have you read it? What did you think?