Beastings in conversation on The Quietus

Bonds Of Morality: Benjamin Myers’ Beastings Reviewed In Conversation.

Weary of the standard review format — of answering the question ‘Yeah, but is it any good?’ — Kit Caless, publisher at Influx Press, sits down with novelist and academic Heidi James to discuss their experience of Benjamin Myers’ new novel Beastings

Kit: The first thing that struck me about Beastings, which is essentially a rural tale, was I didn’t feel like it was in England, or an England I knew, exactly.

Heidi: Absolutely, and that was the comment made on blurb wasn’t it? ‘Like an American southern gothic tale’. I found quite interesting because it read more like a kind of how I imagine Wyoming or somewhere like that. I’m with you, it’s not a countryside I recognize, being a southerner, being from Kent.

K: Because the Kent is so managed. There’s no wilderness.

H: And densely populated! There’s never any sense of threat. You can get lost in the Kent countryside, in the sense that you are two and a half miles away from somewhere, but there’s always the nagging feeling that if you keep walking you’ll eventually end up at the A2. Or Margate. Even as a kid, we went roaming in places like Romney Marshes and we sort of got lost, but not really. You knew if you kept walking you’d be out of there by six, seven o’clock in the evening. There was no sense of genuine threat.

K: And even if you hit the coast you still knew you’d get to Rye, or Hastings or wherever.

But this novel felt expansive. When I was reading it, I felt a bit lost. I was trying to picture the landscape, which is very evocatively written, but I couldn’t anchor myself. It felt like once some part of the countryside had been described and the girl had moved on, I had almost forgotten what the part she’d moved on from looked like. And then the priest tracking her would come across the same landscape a bit later and I wouldn’t recognize it for ages until suddenly it would click like – oh! That’s where they are… So I was lost at the same time as the characters. It was quite exciting.

H: I think the book does that beautifully, idiomatically – it creates the loss that the characters are having so you become lost with them. As a writer, I found myself asking, how is Ben writing about the same thing so beautifully over and over again. What an incredible feat…

Read the full conversation over at The Quietus…


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