Review by Rob St. John
Beastings is a word that evokes an uneasy mix of newborn fragility and primitive savagery. Often spelt as ‘beestings’ or ‘biestings’ it is used to describe the first, watery milk produced by an animal after giving birth. In British military parlance, beastings describe the rough treatment of new recruits: a ‘breaking in’ rite of passage. And in many ways it provides an appropriate title for Benjamin Myers new book, a bleak, compelling novel about religion, fertility and ferality, played out amongst the Lake District fells where the line between (wo)man and beast often seems fragile and thin.
Myers’s previous novel, Pig Iron, told of a young man of traveller lineage attempting to shake the shackles of his past: a North Yorks noir that pitched up somewhere between Ross Raisin’s God’s Own Country and Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male. Whilst Pig Iron was rightly lauded, receiving the inaugural Gordon Burns prize in 2013, there’s a clear sense of progression in Beastings, a new lyrical ambition and confidence that plots this tempestuous traverse of the North Country hills.
(Image by Matt Sewell)