"The landscape and the prose share a savagery: punctuation is blown past, retrospection submerged."by Luke Maxted / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Beast by Paul Kingsnorth (Faber & Faber, £12.99)
In 2001, Paul Kingsnorth was granted honorary membership of the Lani tribe after his campaigns for the secession of the provinces of Papua and West Papua from Indonesia. In the same year, his ecological activism won him a spot on a list of Britain’s “top 10 troublemakers.” And in 2008, Zac Goldsmith announced that “everyone” should read Real England, his polemic against corporatised high streets and homogenised pubs.
His first novel, The Wake, was the story of Buccmaster, an Anglo-Saxon freeman who, after the Norman Invasion of 1066, begins a guerrilla war on the Lincolnshire Fens. It won the 2014 Gordon Burn Prize and was longlisted for the Booker.
Beast is its sequel. A present day Buckmaster feuds with an enigmatic creature on a West Country moor. The story is an existential and a physical adventure, as exciting in its mode of telling as in what is told. The landscape and the prose share a savagery: punctuation is blown past, retrospection submerged. Chapters begin in the middle of words, and repetition mimics the moor’s ferocity: “I was lying wet wet through on wet stone slabs.” While The Wake’s composite language of Old and modern English, expressed its author’s devotion to ancientness, Beast’s apocalyptic vision implies a disquiet for contemporary life. Halfway through the novel Buckmaster says, “I felt like I had fallen down a hole into a thousand years ago.” One suspects that Kingsnorth wishes he could do just that.