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The Restraint of Beasts

by Magnus Mills

The narrator enters his role of foreman with justified trepidation - he hasn't been selected, as such, Donald makes it clear that no one else is available. So Tam and Ritchie, powerful, rough Scots fencers acquire a new boss, charged with the role of keeping them on task, in the field and most importantly out of the pub. Donald is a bully with the utmost contempt for them - he doesn't even equip them with the basics such as rainwear. They labour in isolation, in appalling conditions supervised by the narrator, who has a certain empathy with them, but has great trouble keeping track of them. As if this brutal and monotonous way of life far wasn't bad enough Mills introduces us to their home - a filthy, dilapidated caravan, which is towed about with them. Mills' description of them dossing down in the awful caravan is brilliant. These smelly and completely wild men are unwilling or unable to bring any sort of order whatsoever to their domestic arrangements and naturally, all evenings have to end with complete inebriation in the local pub.

A sense of foreboding and a darker sub text emerges after Mr McCrindle's fence goes slack and Donald arranges for them to travel to something new and unspecified in England. This proves to be a much more complicated job than they were lead to believe and the nature of the fencing begs many questions.
The story becomes a fable about power and exploitation as the local Mafia appear. As they continue to toil in fear I became increasingly uneasy at the open ended nature of their tasks and the dangerous consequences of their failure to meet the boss's ever - increasing expectations.
Mills' rather economical, stark style is very satisfying - it adds to the bleakness of it all and makes the many comic and ironic touches all the more powerful.

With conviction and in a deadpan way, he has created a most demented world, which I found unpleasantly believable and fascinating. Darkly sinister, it's a black comedy of show - downs, stand - offs and disappointments, needless to say, all completely mad.

I found that it exerts a rather peculiar and lingering power. Read it, I recommend, and draw your own conclusions.


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