Shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Award: a modern comic classic from 'A British writer to be treasured' (Independent on Sunday) The news couldn't be worse for Tam, Richie and their new supervisor: Mr McCrindle's fence has gone slack. The three of them are duly dispatched to the McCrindle farm, where they finish off the work, then go to England where, after rain-sodden days bashing in fence posts, they wolf down baked beans in their shared caravan and spend their evenings and cash in the local pub. But then they encounter the Hall Brothers -- butchers, rival fencers and local heroes!
Good fences may make good neighbors, but in Magnus Mills's first novel, bad fences make for high tension indeed. An eerie noir fable told in a grim, deadpan voice, The Restraint of Beasts begins as an unnamed English fence builder finds himself promoted to foreman over Tam and Richie, two undermotivated Scots laborers. They've just been sent out to fix a high-tension fence when events go horribly awry--and that's just the beginning. For the rest of the novel, as his charges drink, smoke, loaf, and pound the occasional post, things go wrong 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 with these particular fencers on the job, you'd best watch your back. And your front, for that matter. And maybe 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. They're soon at loggerheads with the sinister Hall brothers, whose business enterprises seem to combine fencing, butchering, sausage-making, and a fierce attachment to school meals. "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 thing 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 debut 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 without success to read. No doubt about it, The Restraint of Beasts is a strange novel that only grows stranger as it progresses; with luck, it augurs more brilliant, odd work from Mills. --Mary Park