‘Beast’ by Paul Kingsnorth – An English Man Alone

‘Beast’ by Paul Kingsnorth  (2017) – 164 pages

‘Beast’ is what I call an isolation novel.  Like Robinson Crusoe, Paul Buckmaster is a man alone. Buckmaster is a contemporary man who willingly left his village and wife and baby daughter to live by himself in a dilapidated shack out in the West Country English moors.

‘Are you looking for God or looking for your self? she said. Can you even tell the difference any more? … Six years, she said, it’s been six years, and you leave now, at the worst time there could be, and for nothing … You are a child, she said, you always have been, and now I have two children.’

Buckmaster sees his former village life as empty:

“Everywhere there were voices and I added my voice to them and we spoke out together and said nothing at all.”

“I walked the streets, I sat on the couches, I passed through the sliding doors, I talked but never listened, I sold but I never gave away.”  

He went to the wilderness seeking solace:

“I came here to measure myself against the great emptiness.”

‘Back there,’ Buckmaster says of his abandoned life, ‘I was an item, an object, a collection of gears, a library of facts compiled by others, a spark plug in a universal engine, an opinion machine, I was made of plastic and bamboo canes and black bin bags. I walked like I was human and alive but I was neither. I could know anything in an instant and I knew nothing … I need to be in the places where the light comes through, where people are thin on the ground, where the old spirits still mutter in the hedges and the stone rows.’

However by now Buckmaster has gone nearly insane after a year of solitude. ‘Perhaps I am losing my mind,’ he says: ‘I do hope so.’  On one of his long rambling walks through the woods, Buckmaster encounters a beast with penetrating yellow eyes: ‘a long low dark animal with a thin curling tail that it held above the ground as it walks’.  He has no idea what the creature is but is determined to see it again.

Although of course Kingsnorth never comes out and tells us what the Beast means, my own theory is that it represents this man’s guilt over leaving his wife and baby at a critical time.  Perhaps I’m being a little too straightforward and prosaic.

Whenever I read one of these heavy-duty isolation novels, I find myself longing for Jane Austen and her amusing congenial banter across the kitchen table.

 

Grade:   B+        

 

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6 responses to this post.

  1. *chuckle* You want the book to be something else, not what the author wrote!

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    • Hi Lisa,
      I was contrasting that most sociable of authors Jane Austen with this man who is going insane by himself out in the wilderness. There is something to be said for the merely pleasant.

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  2. I do plan to read this but I still haven’t read the previous one yet, which to be honest appeals more. I’m glad he addresses the issue with the wife and child, but there does sound something fundamentally selfish in choosing that kind of isolation when you have existing dependents.

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    • Hi Max,
      I missed ‘The Wake’ too which was definitely on my list of novels I wanted to read. I read an article saying Kingsnorth was a Brexit supporter and that sort of spoiled him for me. But I suppose I shouldn’t let politics get in the way of literary concerns. After all, I do like the novels of Hamsun and Celine; both of them were Nazi sympathizers.

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      • I’m pretty sure he is a Brexiteer. His politics are very idiosyncratic. He’s a fairly radical environmentalist (not in the blow stuff up sense but in the sense that it’s absolutely core to his beliefs and philosophy) but whereas most of those tend to veer left he seems on most issues to be a form of right that isn’t really mainstream anymore. He’s also a strange kind of nationalist, but without wanting to kick people out as best I can tell (his focus seems to be on supporting English identity rather than fighting some imaginary dilution of it).

        When he was on Twitter he often came across as some kind of cliched middle-aged grumpy hard-right sort perpetually angry at snowflakes and SJWs and whatever they’re presently imagining is out there. At the same time he was polite enough to me despite my probably being both those things from the perspective of those on the internet right. My impression though is that his politics are somewhat subtler than is easily captured in a newspaper article so he was probably right to leave the platform – he was caricaturing himself.

        To be honest, politically he seems to me a bit of a crank but perhaps that’s related to why he produces such equally idiosyncratic books.

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        • Ever since I read a Guardian article about how the Brexit movement was fronted by Trump buddy Robert Mercer and the Russians, I haven’t had much use for them. However Paul Kingsnorth is a strong writer as I found in ‘Beast’, and I will pay attention to him in the future.

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