Every Booker Prize longlist brings at least one surprise and this year it’s 29-year-old Fiona Mozley’s debut novel, Elmet, a gothic tale of trespass and transgression set in a Yorkshire landscape that’s curiously ageless, with little sign of the recent industrial past. This is surely intentional (Elmet was the Celtic kingdom that’s now the West Riding of Yorkshire), and the historical and geographical indeterminacy adds much to the book’s charge. The past oozes through every chapter: ‘once the whole county had been woodland … The soil was alive with ruptured stories … Tales of green men … Robyn Hode and his pack of scrawny vagrants.’ It’s a world where bestial violence is prone to erupt at any moment, an elemental, unsettling place, familiar from novels such as Ross Raisin’s God’s Own Country and Bruce Chatwin’s On the Black Hill.
The book’s fourteen-year-old narrator, Daniel, and his sister, Cathy, live with their man-mountain father (referred to simply and ominously as Daddy) in a house on disputed land. When the local landowner, the aptly named Mr Price, turns up demanding his property back, Daddy and Price’s sons descend into a vortex