A queasy, spooky, murderously funny tale from the driver of the number 18 bus…
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Building high-tension fencing with a couple of rural Scots louts--what could be a more likely premise for a black comedy? An eerie noir fable told in a grim, deadpan voice, The Restraint of Beasts tells the story of an English fence-builder promoted to foreman over two under-motivated labourers. They've just been sent out to fix a badly done fence when events go horribly awry--and not for the last time either. For the rest of the novel, as his charges drink, loaf and pound the occasional fence-post, events go badly amiss over and over again. In a sense, that's all you can truly rely on in Mills's fictional world. It is not giving away too much to say that if you hire these workers to assemble your high-tension fence, you'd best watch your back. Or your front, for that matter. And keep a firm eye on the skies, just in case.
The team travels south to England, where they live out of a damp, cold caravan in the town of Upper Bowland. Here they soon find themselves at loggerheads with the sinister Hall brothers, whose business enterprises seem to combine fencing, butchering, sausage-making and the mysterious "school dinners". "We committed no end of good deeds!" cries John Hall. "Yet still we lost the school dinners! Always the authorities laying down some new requirement, one things after another! This time is seems we must provide more living space. Very well! If that's the way they want it, we'll go on building fences for ever if necessary! We'll build pens and compounds and enclosures! And we'll make sure we never lose them again!"
In between placing Kafkaesque obstacles in his narrator's path, Mills seeds his novel with small, darkly comic touches: Tam's father, whom we last see erecting a stockade round his house "to stop you from coming home any more"; the sound of Richie's Black Sabbath tapes "slowly being stretched in an under-powered cassette player"; the caravan's encroaching squalor; An Early Bath for Thompson, the book that Richie tries in vain to read when they run out of money for pubs. No doubt about it, this is a strange book that only grows stranger as it progresses; with any luck it augurs well for more brilliant, odd work from debut novelist Mills. --Mary ParkReview:
“Mills’s hilarious novel failed to win last year’s Booker prize, but it has now had a perhaps finer accolade bestowed on it: an audio version.”
Sunday Times 10/1/99
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