Saturday, 15 October 2016

"Beast" by Paul Kingsnorth


This is a book of questions. It is also a book of broken sentences, where grammar and syntax sink into the prose like pretty pebbles into quicksand. This is a book of puzzles. Where does the story take place?  Is it in the now, the future or some parallel world? Everything seems right. Everything points to a time after a major catastrophe. At first ,we don’t even know the name of the central protagonist we only find this on page thirty-seven. Edward Buckmaster. It is a good name, a solid and resolute name which sums up the character to a T.

The story begins. Just like that. Straight into the narrative with no, or little preamble or build-up. Straight in like wham-bam-thank-you-Sam. A man in a place, an odd place, a place full of wet and dirt and tumbledown. A man on his own but not it would seem out of choice. This is no hermit. He lives on his own in silent solitude out of an instinct for survival. But why? How did he come to be in this place and at this time? Where is this place? What time is it? What year?

There is fear and self-loathing mixed among the bracken and thorn. There are paranoia and loneliness clinging to the mind, the heart and soul. There is darkness among the roots, in the air and in the mind. There is vastness in paradox that shrinks the large emptiness to something small and haunted. And there is the beast.

There are no chapters just four breaks that define the tale being told with their distinctly fractured style. The first is only nineteen pages long; the second longer at eighty something pages. As the book is only one hundred and sixty-three pages long the second break is by far the longest.

Like any book, any novel that is, it is the beginning that hooks you. That first line is baited and you bite, you most certainly bite and thereafter are captivated. “I stood in the river up to my knees and the river was cold.” The novel isn’t though. It is warm, a delight of experimental English. Rules are broken like shattered stain glass windows the fragments of which form enchanting words that harry you along over the rough edges, the curious repetitions, on ever on to the ultimate end even though the end, when it arrives, is not necessarily the end you thought it would be.

Author Paul Kingsnorth’s last novel, “The Wake,” was nominated for the Booker Prize. For me it was a step too far. It was equally, if perhaps a little more, experimental than this but I found the language used, a sort of mix of ancient and old, hard work. As much as I applauded the brave attempt at writing something so distinct, so original, I simply couldn’t get into it. This, though, “The Beast,” reminds me of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” The two books are different as chalk and cheese as are the voices of the authors yet there is the same concentrated focus. That singular ability to capture so convincingly the reader within the fabric of the story.

Not since last year’s quite amazing debut novel “Grief is a Thing With Feathers,” by Max Porter, have I been so excited by what I have read.

This is what I look like.

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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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