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Beast (Buckmaster Trilogy 2) Paperback – 6 Jul 2017
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To read Beast is a joy. The more of Kingsnorth's intensity you survive, the more you can manage: in the end, your gaze has become as minutely focused as his hermit's. You feel alive. (Guardian)
Like Robert Macfarlane re-written by Cormac McCarthy. (Telegraph)
Beast continues Kingsnorth's powerful exploration of the connection between people, place and prose . . . This is a novel bravely wrestling not only with the bestial, but with what it is that makes us human. (Observer)
Kingsnorth's style is a kind of ancient modernism, and he's really the only writer doing anything like it . . . Writing that is both powerful and singular - Beckett doing Beowulf. (London Review of Books)
Eerily arresting . . . the book brings to mind such films as Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man and Michael Reeves's Witchfinder General . . . There is much potent writing, calm wisdom and quiet understanding in this book. Beast offers a message for the future as well as a robust challenge to the present. (Literary Review)
Prose and gaze are inseparable, and Kingsnorth's gaze is so intense it forces a similar intensity from the reader. The smallest shift of the light puts us on edge, on our mettle. Will something terrible happen? The moor, an empty church, an empty lane with something glimpsed swiftly crossing it - all are so menacing because they are so minutely themselves. There's a kind of aching attentiveness necessary to read Beast, but the narrative easily brings it out in you, and the reward is obvious. (Guardian 'Book of the Day')
The stunning new novel from the prize-winning author of The Wake
SHORTLISTED FOR THE RSL ENCORE AWARD 2017See all Product description
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Beast is, dare I say it, a different beast. Whereas Wake's pseudo-mediaeval language was a barrier for some, the difficulty with Beast is that the modern English is used to tell an impenetrable story. Initially we meet a man living in a stone room, somewhere on an unspecified moor, caught between running away from something and searching for something. He seems to be unable to move beyond a church - constantly finding himself back on the same stretch of road. In subsequent sections, a strange black cat appears.
That's about as much as one can say without spoilers.
The four sections begin and end in mid word. Some sections lack capital letters and have unconventional punctuation, whilst others use more normal language. There are strange references to tropical plantlife - plantains, for example - and the weather seems to flit from cold and misty to arid and hot. The setting is both bleak moorland and the edge of a great city with shanties. In trying to make sense of this, the best I could come up with was four separate narrators, each in some kind of different temporal existence in the same space, whilst the land showed traces of all stages of its existence dating back to pre-historic mangroves. I wondered whether the narrators could be ghosts - one seemed to have been injured badly with scratches and lacerations and one was called Edward Buckmaster, the principal character in Wake.
I am sure there is something profound going on, and psychogeographers would have a field day trying to unravel it all. But for this reader, at least, the interesting ideas did not completely work on the page. It was all a bit disjointed, fragmentary, and directionless. And, frankly, a bit repetitive.
Beast is not a long book, more of a novella if anything, and that is a blessing. At this length, the ideas just about balance out the frustration. But had it been much longer, I suspect it would have outstayed its welcome.
What it is, it's a long, colorful, beautifully thought-out and skillfully written meditation about, I would sum up, existential angst. Highly personal and yet with universal appeal, kind of what I imagine Saint Augustine would say in the 21st century -- profound musings with some vigorous philosophical shouting and screaming included. If, and only if, this sort of thing appeals to you, sit yourself down with this book and prepare to be patient and to have to think hard. When you do, you shall be rewarded for sure.