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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 6 April 2017
I had to read this for my book group and approached it with some trepidation after seeing reviews. I actually ended up really enjoying it. Descriptions of the offhand violence (admittedly usually accidental) and the squalid living conditions of the main characters could have been utterly repellent. For some reason they weren't and the dry humour came over really well. There was certainly something bizarre and menacing going on. At one stage about a page or more of text form the beginning of the book was repeated word for word towards the end. There may have been more of this but I didn't spot it. This must have been to highlight the repetitive nature of the characters' employment. This was somehow conveyed without becoming boring in itself. I will look out for more books by Magnus Mills, especially "A Cruel Bird came to the Nest and looked in" - what can this be about?
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on 15 May 2017
many thanks
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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 1 July 2017
Based on my reading of him thus far, this is a typical Magnus Mills fable - narrow in scope, slightly surreal and sparsely written. That makes it refreshingly different and is part of the enjoyment along with his wry humour. Recommended as long as you aren't bringing with you too many expectations about the meaning of literature/story/character/humour.
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on 27 September 2015
It's a very funny book with steel threads and staples running through as the local heroes see off the newcomers.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 October 2012
Until recently I knew nothing of Magnus Mills - a situation which, sadly, no longer obtains. This long-winded shaggy dog story seems to have taken in many, though none that I have yet encountered are able to explain precisely what this book achieves. Yes, there are all the fashionable references to black comedy but to what end? None of the characters develop and the droll, matter-of - fact tone soon palls. This reminds me very much of the occasion when people went round banging musical instruments at random in a BBC music studio. What inevitably followed was all manner of critiques in the broadsheets finding this to be a highly original piece of work pushing forward the boundaries of our musical experience etc. At best this novel might have made a passable Monty Python five minute sketch. I've little doubt it will return to oblivion if it is not already in secure possession of that state.
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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 13 November 2003
This short novel reminded me of an excerpt from a Ken Loach film: its characters are reminiscent of those Loach characters whose hearts are full of tenderness and good intentions, but who still turn out to have been cast in life as permanent no-hopers. But once we’ve understood that they have dehumanising jobs, live on baked beans and spend their paltry wages on beer in generally unfriendly pubs, there’s not a great deal farther for us to go.
Magnus Mills admittedly has a keen ear for dialogue, especially the differences between the heartfelt, spontaneous outbursts of the exploited and the pedantic sarcasms of those who exploit them. But it’s still only an excerpt from a Ken Loach movie that I’m made to think of, and the whole thing finishes rather suddenly, leaving the reader feeling that, despite an original situation, he hasn’t really had his money’s worth as far as plot is concerned... even if, as various reviewers have, perhaps disingenuously, pointed out, that is deliberate...
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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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