By Olive Mullet
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (short-listed for 2017 Booker). This is a raw, beautifully written page-turner of a first novel, acclaimed in the Booker Award selection (though, as a long shot, not the winner). We meet Daniel, a preteen child, the first-person narrator running away from something and towards a hope of finding his teenage sister Cathy. What they are fleeing from when they lived off the land with their strong father is what we are to discover. The writing is poetic and insightful though maybe unrealistic for intermittently educated Daniel, although he’s a reader. In any case, the family’s lives – set in a wooded part of northern Yorkshire, Elmet, England – are threatened by their bully landowner, The book deals with important themes like how one cannot disentangle from the outside world, how bullies evolve, plus lots of social problems relevant to today, including the exploitation by the outside world ‘s strangers.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan is very different from her Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Visit to the Goon Squad. The earlier novel was experimental in form which worked for the material. Manhattan Beach will be easier to read with a more traditional linear progression. Set during WWII in NYC, 12-year-old Anna Kerrigan accompanies her father to a ritzy house on Manhattan Beach and is told to play with the daughter, Tabitha, and Tabitha’s twin brothers while her father talks to the father of the rich children, Dexter Styles. During that visit Anna meets Mr. Styles on the beach where she shows her fortitude, impressing the man. Years later her father having disappeared, Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, one of many women repairing ships while men are away at war. Anna dreams of being a diver and eventually proves her metal there. And she meets Mr. Styles again – with unforeseen consequences. This is a beautifully written, riveting novel. Egan has again shown how good a novelist she is.