When a conflict is composed as perfectly as it is in “Beastings” no flourishes are needed. The prose in this novel are so pared down that the primary characters don’t even have names. A Girl races over the countryside in Northern England with a kidnapped baby. She is pursued by a Priest who has employed a Poacher with a dog to help track and find her. Instead of distancing you from the characters this anonymity makes you feel closer to the essential cores of these individuals. The Girl is a mute. Through her quiet actions and careful tending of the baby that she tries desperately to protect and care for her nature is revealed. The same is true in her pursuers whose perfectly pitched dialogue shows the sinister determination and self-righteousness of the drug-fuelled Priest as well as the down-to-earth humour and practicality of the Poacher. The chase becomes a battle of wills where the characters are driven to their breaking points until the thrilling climax is reached.
The Girl is someone who feels she comes from nothing and is nothing as she is an orphan raised by nuns and the Priest. But the responsibility of taking the child changes this: “without the child who relied upon her she did not know if she would exist any longer. So long as there was this responsibility – this bond – life had a purpose.” Her journey becomes as much about gradually acquiring a sense of self worth as well as protecting the baby she’s rescued from an abusive home. As the central characters travel through the country and towns, they encounter a range of fascinating individuals – some with generous spirits and others with more mixed motives. One of the most fascinating is a cave dwelling man named Tom Solomon who suggests that life can be lived separated from mainstream society. He muses: “Feels good to go feral from time to time though. Of course it does. Because you can’t feel lonely with nature as your companion.” Not only do these characters add momentum to the story, but their multifarious points of view suggest a building statement the author is making about society and ways of living.
Myers’ writing has a succinct clean beauty which draws you into this story. His language becomes more honed in and intense as the characters emotionally and physically break down during their arduous travels. When the Girl is in a particularly bad stretch without access to water she feels “Thirst like she had never known. A thirst to turn the world yellow. Make her eyeballs tingle and her throat scream. Lips crack. Teeth itch. Panic.” You feel the physical experience in these sharpened precise choices of words. It’s this bodily immersion in this chase which gripped me as I read. This exciting, nerve-wracking tale is also a heartfelt cry against moral hypocrisy of the worst kind. Although the Girl is reduced to clawing over the landscape for sustenance like an animal, it’s the authority figure that is revealed as the true primordial creature. As one character rebukes “You’re all at it you religious lot. Beast behaviour.”
One of the most powerful things that struck me about this novel was its unique take on the experience of survival. We who get to sit comfortably reading novels have survived in life when so many others have perished through circumstance and bad luck. Although life can be gruellingly difficult, there is a guilt attached with the bare fact of survival. At one point Myers writes “Think of your poor siblings next time you’re shedding those tears said the Sisters. Up there with those un-Godly beasts. Those wicked wicked people. No. You were the lucky one girl.” With this challenge the Girl courageously goes forth to survive on her own terms. She has been lucky to survive where others have not, but she will no longer compromise. Her trials to achieve true independence make for a powerful, gripping story. Falling into the stripped down and savage world of “Beastings” I was totally enthralled.