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4.1 out of 5 stars69
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 3 May 2005
Magnus Mills' has crafted a particularly well-written black comedy around the unlikely theme of fence construction. In 'The Restraint of Beasts', the English narrator receives the dubious honour of being appointed supervisor of two Scottish fence-builders: the bone idle Richie and his even lazier offsider Tam. Both Richie and Tam are live for the day - or at least a few pints at night - and never seem to have two pennies to rub together. The novel faithfully captures the sheer drudgery of repetitive and mundane physical labour, as well as the humour that can occur in such workplaces. The work of this team as they construct supposedly high-tensile fences comes under a great deal of scrutiny from management, clients and rivals - with darkly funny consequences. Suffice it to say that there are many laughs in this quirky novel that has resonances of classic English comedies such as 'Withnail and I' and 'The League of Gentlemen'.
Magnus Mills' debut novel would have been a possible 5-star contender for most of the journey. However, the novel becomes significantly blacker and less humourous in the final stages with no apparently good reason, ending most abruptly in an annoying and unsatisfying manner. Nevertheless, 'The Restraint of Beasts' is a highly entertaining, off-beat black comedy that accurately portrays the lifestyle of workers fenced in by economic forces.
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on 15 January 1999
I can't give this book the 5 stars others have awarded, even though I would agree with most of the other comments; the book is a good read, an excellent black comedy.
The only problem is the way it is finished off - the story has been carefully crafted and the possibility of some more delicious moments meticulously set up. And then .... nothing! As I was reading it I was thinking, "this is good, how is it going to be resolved?" It wasn't, much to my annoyance.
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on 8 August 2008
How is it possible to write such a beautiful, engaging and un-put-downable book without any discernible plot? Mills does, and it is a work of genius; one that deserves to become a classic.

Some guys build a fence. That's about it. But what characters! Mills has an ability to write character and scene in a way that makes you love even the most unlovable of them. No author since Steinbeck has managed it so convincingly. His prose is clean, clear and full of life, never seeking to impress, but doing so time after time.

This book is not for everyone - but everyone should give it a go. It's fresh, unusual, and never to be forgotten!
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on 14 September 2011
This is a tale about three men who work for a Scottish construction company, a calm foreman and his two bickering colleagues. Packed into a dank caravan, they are sent to the North of England on a job. For several weeks they must stay and build a high-tensile fence and live in each other's pockets. The days pass by monotonously, working in the wet fields and heading into the nearby village each evening for some beers. They smoke cigarettes, argue, eat sausages and complain. That's pretty much it. Oh, and they have a nasty habit of killing people by accident.

So this is not a joke. It's not my entry for the most tedious plot competition and it's not something I overheard a boring bloke in the pub say. It's actually an incredibly intelligently written and compelling novel.

Quite how Magnus Mills got himself an agent and a publisher to get his first novel into print is beyond me as this one breaks all the rules of having a strong concept, interesting plot and marketable structure. But he did, and six novels later (all of which are similarly banal) he has made a great name for himself, with frequent comparisons to Kafka.

The secret of this book is in the tension, Mills has the ability to write about the mundane whilst misleading the reader into thinking something colossal is about to occur. He goes into great detail in describing the day to day specifics of building fences and living in a caravan yet maintains a sinister aura... somehow. I may sound a little ridiculous in calling this a "page turner" but indeed it is and all because the prose is so intelligent that it feels as if there is something amiss, that somebody is leading the characters into trouble or that there are bigger forces in play.

In a world where readers and publishers are obsessed with compelling, plot-driven fiction it is refreshing to see an author succeed with a subtle, character driven black comedy. The reader is liable to feel frustrated by inaction and will no doubt close the back cover wondering what that point was. Nonetheless, this is an understated and beautiful story.
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on 7 October 2007
The Restraint of Beasts is a bizarre and very black comedy about a gang of three high-tensile fencing contractors (hence the title) - Tam and Richie, two long-haired, lunatic Scots and their reluctant English foreman who's name we never learn.
The gang are despatched to England by their psychotic, fence obsessed boss Donald, where they spend their dismal rain-soaked days trudging through muddy fields, digging holes and knocking in fence posts. Equally dismal evenings are spent in the dingy squalor of their flimsy caravan and drinking their wages in the local pubs.
The Restraint of Beasts has many unexpected surprises and ludicrous twists and turns and becomes increasingly surreal, but never slides into farce or slapstick. Everyone of Mills' characters are endearing, interesting and larger than life. Tam and Richie are just brilliant - totally incompetent and disgusting, but childlike and lovable and you can't help but feel sorry for them having to make do with fertilizer bags for waterproofs and polishing their cowboy boots with their least dirtiest underpants.
Magnus Mills is able to say an awful lot with just a few words which makes his comic timing even more effective. One scene, several pages long is repeated word for word further on, this seemed odd although it worked well.
If I have any criticism it would be with the ending, which, like many aspects of the book was not what I expected.
Restraint of Beasts is funny, clever and mysterious and Magnus Mills deserves to be proud of his first novel and the unforgettable characters he has created.
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on 13 September 2003
What a great book! Everything is written with superb understatement to the point where you eventually come to think that every strange occurence in this book is completely normal.

There isn't much else you can say about it. All I would say is, don't expect an in-depth character study or a deeply moving novel. Relax before you read it, then laugh your head off when you do read it - I did.
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on 16 October 2004
I first read this book on my mother's recomendation, however the recomendation comming from a parent meant that it couldn't be good. We never agree about books. But she was so entusiastic about this book that we entered a pact, she would read Terry Pratchet's Small Gods and I would read Magnus Mills' Restraint Of Beasts.
As she read Small Gods there was a noticable amount of giggling and sniggering. However after reading it she of course denied it, she would never concede to liking a fantasy book!
I on the other hand loved the story telling of Magnus Mills, reading the book felt like listening to a good story around a camp fire, albeit a bit of a sureal story. I'm not going to spoil the book but I can say that after reading it you wll never look at the countryside in the same light again.
This book would certainly suit those of you who like TV comedies like Monty Python, League Of Gentlemen and Black Books. I now own the majority of Magnus' books.
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on 8 February 2001
Some previous reviewers seem to have held it against the book that it `seems' to be plot-less, that it simply meanders. Well in one sense it does, but in doing that it's mirroring precisely the relatively `plot-less' lives of the two central characters, Tam and Richie.
I was taken straight back to my days as a student, labouring in the holidays building golf courses. I met, sadly, many `Tam and Richie's' - always skint (or, more often, in continual debt), always ready for an excuse to stop work, never looking any further forward than Friday night.
Think about it, it's a crushing life to look forward too - monotonous, back-breaking, with nothing to show for it at the end. Magnus Mills captures that hopelessness perfectly. The answers to most questions ARE "dunno", "nothing.." or "forgot".
Having just read another debut novel that was lauded for its `evocative and mesmeric' writing but which I found over-written and too clever-by-half I'd recommend "The Restraint of Beasts" every time. Writing clean, understated prose is a far harder job than its opposite. Call it a bonus that the book is also very dark and funny.
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on 17 February 1999
Great read, thoroughly enjoyed it, loved the deadpan humour, but, oh, the last page. Am I missing something? Did the final chapter not make it to the printers? I thought maybe my copy had been bound wrongly (honest!), so I went back and re-read the finale, but still couldn't make any sense of it. A fantastic debut spoiled by, well, THAT ending. What a shame. Up to page 214 and a half it's a 5 crown book, but those last few paragraphs drag it down to 3. A bit like scoring an own goal in the last minute. You know the feeling.
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on 17 July 2000
This is one of the few books I've ever read that really made me laugh out loud. The synopsis describes what the book is about accurately enough, but it takes real skill to make fence-making interesting and amusing (no offence to fence-makers). The style of the book is also wonderful. The end confused me for a while, but without wishing to give too much away, makes perfect sense when you think about it.
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