Fearful Symmetry

Film. Books. Comics. TV. Music.

The Restraint Of Beasts by Magnus Mills

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Fenced in

Fenced in

There are very few books that make me laugh out loud. A smirk, a smile, a snort; yes. But a proper, full-on proper laugh… that’s very rare. The Restraint Of Beasts is one of them. I’d say it’s shot with a bullet right into the top ten of my favourite books of all time.

It’s also a book, that if you have any aspirations of writing anything yourself you should approach with care because it is simply quite brilliant, without being immediately obvious why. Simply brilliant and brilliantly simple, its minimal plotting and prose builds up to something both complex and subtle.

The novel’s narrator works for a fencing company. He’s put in charge of Tam and Ritichie, to long-haired work-shy Scottish labourers and sent down south to put up some high-tensile fences in the middle of nowhere. The foreman ‘hero’ is caught between his two idle employees and their endless fag breaks and the demands of his own demented efficiency-mad boss, Donald, back at head office giving impossible orders and docking wages for incomprehensible reasons. And then things take a swerve into darker and increasingly surreal territory with a number of odd deaths and then the later involvement of the Hall brothers, rival local fencers and butchers… There’s a touch of The League Of Gentlemen to the whole proceedings along with more than a bit of Kafka.

There’s some very clever writing in that at first, the narrator, adn the reader starts by despising Tam and Ritchie as he is trapped with them in a squalid caravan parked up on the job, the only relief from it, and the work, are depressing trips out to miserable pubs to squander their meager wages as the two workman go ‘on the pull’. However when he, and the reader, realises that he has more in common with the two than he first thought, they start to become more friendly towards each other, uniting against Donald and the Halls.

Work, especially the type of boring repetitive manual labour depicted here, is not often touched upon in novels, where boredom leads to almost hallucinatory thinking. The novel explores fences, both literal and metaphorical, and the various ways we are all ‘restrained’ in our lives by external forces we have no control over.

The humour is totally deadpan and the underlying existential horror that slowly surfaces during the novel, leading to an oblique almost suffocating conclusion, may not be to everybody’s taste. However I plan, once I’ve got the ‘to read’ pile down to more manageable proportions, to read the rest of Mills’ back catalogue.


Written by Fearful Symmetry

July 14, 2009 at 10:16 am

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