York author Fiona Mozley's Booker long-listed first novel Elmet is a darn good read, says CATHERINE TURNBULL

Most years there is a surprise or two on the Man Booker longlist. Last year it was Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, a crime story set in the remote Highlands published by a small press, which also made the shortlist.

This year the unexpected inclusion on the longlist was a debut by York-based Fiona Mozley that hadn’t even been published yet. Now it has but we will have to wait until September 13 to find out if Mozley, who works at the Little Apple bookshop in York, has made the shortlist.

I certainly hope it does. This is brave new writing, furrowing a rich vein of Yorkshire gothic, using the region’s language and landscape to chronicle a tale of an odd family under siege.

Ted Hughes’ ‘badlands’ of West Yorkshire depicted here were once part of the ancient Celtic kingdom of Elmet. However, the struggles of the motherless Daniel and Cathy and their giant ‘Daddy’ to settle their land are reminiscent of the pioneers of the western tradition of the US sprinkled with gothic tropes. Although set in nearly modern times, it is timeless, with shades of Hardy and the Brontes and rural folk struggling beneath the tyranny of the landowning class.

Daniel and Cathy tried school for a while, but Daddy builds a house with his bare hands in their ‘strange, sylvan otherworld’ because ‘he wanted to keep us separate, in ourselves, apart from the world’.

The boy Daniel narrates how they played at archery like outlaws in the woods, made crossbows and bows and arrows and hunted and skinned rabbits, grew plums and vegetables. They drink cider and smoke roll-ups with their father, Daniel keeps house and his hair grows long.

For a while the family live peacefully in their own small kingdom near the railway line, but all necessary encounters with others in the world beyond their borders bring conflict and danger. Daddy is huge, a bare-knuckle boxer, who has killed men, is unbeaten in a fight; tender and loving to his children. But he has built his house on land he doesn’t own and soon enough the dark forces of the landowner Price and his bailiffs come with an ultimatum and a desire to destroy Daddy.

Daddy is outside society, but he rallies a force made up of the victims of Price and other unscrupulous landlords and employers and for a while there are small victories as demands are met. Ultimately both sides head for tragedy.

Interwoven in the linear narrative is Daniel’s quest for his missing sister and a foreshadowing of what is to come: “I hear those voices again: the men, and the girl. The rage. The fear. The resolve.”

This is a struggle over inequality with themes of loyalty, revenge, possession, otherness and belonging, but Elmet is never sentimental or preachy. It’s a darn good story told in short sentences, true to the voice of its young narrator. Read it and rejoice in a new literary discovery.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley is published by JM Originals priced £10.99.