by Fiona Mozley
Mozley's debut, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, is a rugged, potent work whose concentrated mixture of lyricism and violence recalls Cormac McCarthy. Part fairy tale, part coming-of-age story, part revenge tragedy with literary connections, the novel is a shape-shifting, lyrical, but dark parable of life off the grid in modern Britain. Its narrator is 13-year-old Daniel, the tall, sensitive son of John Smythe, a man mountain who makes his living as a bare-knuckle fighter. Daniel, his lovely, fearless older sister, Cathy, and their father live in a house John built in a copse, on land that once belonged to the children's mother. They are self-sufficient, fed by game they hunt, seated on furniture they built. It's an idyllic if elemental life, lived largely outside society until outside forces find their way back in. Ecological messages, class and gender conflict, and England's long history of struggle are mingled with a surreal, gothic and gory final reckoning.