Saturday, March 1, 2008

"The Green Bridge: Stories from Wales": Book Review

John Davies edited-- if sparingly given but a five-paragraph introduction, a few sentences appended about each contributor, and a few sentences of acknowledgments-- this collection of twenty-five short stories written in English by Welsh authors over the 20th c. Appearing in 1988, it spans the century. I'll briefly comment on the ten I found most worthwhile.

Ifan Pughe, a pseudonymous author, gives a biblically-infused dreamlike "The Wild Horses and Fair Maidens of Llanganoch." As with the better-known Caradoc Evans here in his "Three Men from Horeb," this type of tale conveys what Davies characterizes as "mythopoetic, lighting our dream life, its longings, fears. Our mythology is our lasting consensus, an alternative and often buoyant reality. And a means perhaps of reconciling the irreconciliable." (7) Evans, however, remains much grimmer, the darker side of Pughe's more Lawrentian consciousness. This aura infuses also one of the two longer stories that I especially liked: "The Chosen One" by Rhys Davies. The tension between an atavistic throwback and a powdered dowager unfolds dramatically, and the denouement provides an appropriate, if not predictable, conclusion to the climactic, psychosexual tension.

Such tension, as seen from the view of a little boy, enters Dylan Thomas' "Patricia, Edith and Arnold." The boy witnesses two-timing Arnold get his comeuppance, and the clash of a youthful innocence with adult sin makes for a satisfying, and less schematic than I'd feared, entry. Thomas, by contrast with many of his bilingual peers, controls his language markedly. Many of the writers who also wrote in Welsh tend to charge their stories selected by Davies in English with an undercurrent of less controlled prose. This is not to their detriment in the better stories, but some that I have left unmentioned do mope, prance, or fumble along.

The best of these, the other long story: Gwyn Jones' "The Pit." Like Thomas, a love triangle sets up the plot, but the drama of a protagonist trapped in a mine, fearing his rival's out to destroy him from afar and above, makes for a truly exciting narrative. It's old-fashioned in the best sense of a gripping read. Same with Glyn Jones' "Jordan." This recalls Arthur Machen in its uncanny juxtaposition of the supernatural with the mundane, a half-mythical tale of wrongs righted wrongly if evenly for the sake of righteousness, done by an evildoer to another of his kind.

Emyr Humphreys' "The Arrest" brings the selections closer to present-day concerns, or at least those of modern Wales. It's a simple tale of a preacher preparing for incarceration for his symbolic stand not to pay the television licence until a Welsh-language service was implemented. Many did go to jail for such a decision, and Humphreys carefully shows the idealism and the folly of such a violation of the law. While Alun Lewis' "The Raid" takes place in India immediately pre-Partition, and while Wales never enters into the story, the parallel with another fanatic defying the Empire for his patriotism makes for both a stirring adventure and a thoughtful take on dying for one's country. And, how the imperial forces judge such a stance.

A skewed slant on this issue, in an unnamed African nation under apartheid, pushes another story with no overt Welsh content, Duncan Bush's "Boss," into a symbolic, politically charged interpretation. It's a sign of Bush's skill that he gives a tale full of latent colonial critique as well as potent power without falling into didacticism. Dannie Abse takes this same sense of warped identity into "My Father's Red Indian," which again from an oblique angle appears to become a meditation on the need to assimilate a foreign consciousness within one's domestic predictability.

(Posted today to Amazon US)

1 comment:

Miss Templeton said... you were right.

But how do you say "You like me, You really like me!" in Gaelic?