When I snuff you out I will cover the heavens and all the stars will darken said the priest. And that’ll learn you.
Beastings (US) is a mighty read. Even on a Kindle you can feel the weight of it in your hand. It tells the story of a chase across the Lake District as a priest and his poacher guide attempt to track down a young mute girl and the baby she has taken from its home.
The girl in question is escaping a history of pain and misery in the hands of her pursuer. Her life was destroyed by the priest and she was sent to work as a nanny to a family in a home packed with bitterness, disease and hate. When the baby’s well-being became threatened, the girl decided to take her away to safety. In doing so, she discovers a new meaning to the world and a finds a hope that is as bright and as fleeting as the sunrise. With no resources, she learns to live from the land and to accept the kindness of strangers.
Meanwhile, the priest enlists the help of a poacher and sets of in pursuit. The motives for the chase are entirely self-centred as the priest needs to keep his abuses in the home for girls quiet. He’s even scared to sleep in the presence of others as he talks in his sleep and can’t afford to let any clues about his life slip from his mouth. He’s dark to the core and ranks up there with the most unpleasant characters I’ve ever met on the page. The fact that he is a man driven by his religious zest and who can articulate his philosophies to his own end make him even more frightening than even his actions suggest. His steady decline as he indulges in his addiction for the marching powder that fuels his zeal only adds further to his menace. His conversations with the poacher are intoxicating. The poacher is at one with the landscape and sees the world through practical eyes. He’s a great contrast to the priest and the pair’s arguments are extremely entertaining. They also highlight the bleak and sparse writing style of the book, one that echoes the rugged and stony terrain in which they travel. The humour is pointed as flint, the priest’s lack of emotion as cold as exposed Cumbrian rock.
The material of the book makes it difficult at times and it certainly isn’t for the faint hearted. To me, the harrowing nature of many aspects of the story simply made it more enticing. The chase itself is gripping, but there’s so much more to hold your attention than that. The dialect is superb. The dialogue is a treat to experience. The description of the area and of the way humans interact with it is beautiful. The battle between the nascent hope and the poisonous power of the inevitable is compelling. The climax was a total surprise to me and tattooed itself on the inside of my brain when I reached the end.
Beastings is a gem. It’s a book that deserves to be read and appreciated. There are many flavours to the writing and I suspect there are a host of literary and poetic influences which Myers collects and shakes to create a cocktail that is all of his own.