BEAST: The Mad Reach Of Hermitage

Read Paul Kingsnorth’s new book, BEAST, in two nights. His previous, THE WAKE, was set in the 11th Century – the story of Buccmaster of the Lincolnshire Fens fighting a guerrilla war against the invading Normans. BEAST is set in the present day, and the brutal, dispossessed but clearly demented Buccmaster becomes the broken hermit Edward Buckmaster, living on an unnamed English moor. Think of it, perhaps, as taking place down the hill and across the moor from China Mieville’s THIS CENSUS-TAKER.
Like THE WAKE, it’s about landscape and myth and mental states. BEAST is, perhaps, despite the title, a gentler, sadder book. Edward Buckmaster is framed as having serious issues from the start, having abandoned a partner and very young child to live in an abandoned farm building in the middle of nowhere. The text isn’t explicit, but an accident during a stormy night precipitates either a stroke or a mental break.
I wonder if Kingsnorth realises how much this story of a modern hermit being subsumed by the landscape is an argument against hermitage. I mean, probably. But it’s a grimly arresting piece of work about a mental breakdown. THE WAKE’s linguistic fireworks aside, it hit essentially the same theme, and, with the forthcoming third leg of this trilogy to be set in the future, I can’t help but suspect it’s all going to speak as a dark warning against his own Uncivilisation project. Buckmaster is not discovering his true self and the true shape of the world in his hermitage. He’s causing pain, going insane and coming apart. BEAST, though a smaller and slighter thing than THE WAKE, is spellbinding.
BEAST, Paul Kingsnorth (UK) (US)