Monday, 3 November 2014

"The Restraint of Beasts" - Magnus Mills

This is the book and the author who, in some small way started their own silent literary revolution. Am I being a little fanciful here? Perhaps. Not so much a seismic shift but a gentle appreciation and reaffirmation of what makes good literature and how that should be, could be, composed.
Magnus Mills is unique in his field. There is no other, living or dead author like him. I have thought long and hard about this bringing to my reverie the likes of Mervyn Peake, or Franz Kafka but no, not even they, those greats whose works have influenced many, come even close.
I appreciate this is a bold statement to make but I defy anyone to find any author remotely like Magnus Mills. There again, maybe I shouldn't have used that expression, 'remotely like,' for there is someone who fits that bill, someone now dead but never forgotten but he is hardly a literary great. He being Ivor Cutler. No, on second thoughts remotely is right for the two men share that deadpan delivery, that subtle intimation of something funny coming from something everyday. However, Ivor wrote and sung what was absurd and surreal but Magnus Mills neither writes in that manner nor does he sing or play harmonium. No, back to where I  started. There is and never has been anyone who writes in the style employed by bus driving Mister Mills.
As for his silent revolution, his own literary movement, like modernism or absurdist, well there isn't one. He is in a rarefied club of one. What followed shortly after this modern classic, this Booker nominated novel, was a short lived movement called the New Puritans which owed considerable debt to this book and to its author but which was formed by people other than Magnus Mills. One of the appreciators of his work whose own books, after the Lilly Pascale series, derived inspiration if not voice from this Route Master renegade was Scarlett Thomas.
Mills genius is in the neat, precise and efficient way he writes. There are no clever punctuation marks, no sentences comprised of  convoluted couplets just straight, from the pen, pure, unadulterated English. But it is the manner of his tales, they way he uses everyday, working class subject matter for inspiration mixing with it some of the driest, deadpan delivered humour I have ever read, that captures the imagination. The dialogue is probably the highpoint. It is real without embellishment. In fact much of the method used employs speech to equal parts narrative. The language can be earthy as one would expect with the subject matter, coarse at times as is the way of the working man. The stories them selves can be disturbing. The subtle implications sinister.
With 'Restraint of Beasts' we have three fencers, the unnamed narrator along with Tam and Richie who, having been sent to sort out a previously poorly strung high tensile fence, accidently murder the client who they then bury secretly beneath a fence post. They are then dispatched to England by their boss, Donald, where they have been contracted to fence a hill in quartered sections, then finally place a perimeter fence around the foot of the hill. It is here they meet with The Hall Brothers. All of which sounds simple enough, all of which is monstrously funny in the capable hands of one of Britain's greatest talents - Magnus Mills. The ending is a masterstroke. It closes the tale by leaving it open.
My shelf now holds this quite incredible authors books proudly displayed side by side with those whom I have enjoyed for years. Shuffle up a bit Alan, Kyril, Fred, P.G, George and co; make room for one more.

“He has no literary precedent, and he also appears to have no imitators. He mines a seam that no one else touches on, every sentence in every book having a Magnus Mills ring to it that no other writer could produce” –  Independent

“Magnus Mills is Britain's most original writer, so forget everything you've been told about fiction – he has never even heard of the rules that apply to everyone else” –  The Times

“Comedy's blackest, funniest and most astute practitioner” –  Daily Telegraph

 "A demented, dead-pan comic wonder." - Thomas Pynchon

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog