Ben Myers sees the countryside, really sees it; he is able to describe things in his writing most of us may notice but don’t really take in. You get the impression that the core of his novel must originate from intimate knowledge and communion with nature and a love of an outdoorsy way of life. Although, like with his last novel Pig Iron, Myers writes about the surroundings as though it were another character in his story, lending comfort, shelter, hardship, pain and salvation, a provider of a sort-of religious experience in a green cathedral, Beastings is in essence a chase novel reminiscent of Geoffrey Household with characters remaining nameless and most of the action taking place in the open. Unlike Rogue Male, this is a story of a vulnerable, innocent and mute girl pitted against the knowledge, strength and cunning of the priest and poacher, her pursuers, as well as a myriad of obstacles placed in her way by the elements and punishing terrain of the Lakeland fells, woodland and mountain environment she must traverse to escape her oppressive past. Her only company is the baby she has stolen.
If you are familiar with Myers’ work you will know to expect some grim moments, all of which are necessary to make a point and move the plot forward. But there is measure and equity in his writing; each gruesome description is balanced by beautiful observations of cloud formations or bird song. There is plenty of ecclesiastical language aswell and an underlying commentary on the destructive capabilities of organised religion when left unchecked – but this is not done in any sort of preachy way. In fact, no word is wasted in Myers’ writing, every sentence propels the action forward, raising the reader’s heart rate in time with the girl’s as she stumbles towards her final fate.
Extraordinary, visceral, heart-breaking and visually stunning, this is another belter from Myers. You’re missing out if you don’t read it.
Big thanks and apologies to Blue Moose Books for taking so long.
Other Ben Myers stuff: