Sunday, March 1, 2009

Niall Griffiths interview at AmeriCymru

Celebrating daffodils on St. David's Day, national holiday for Wales, here's a discussion with one of my favorite authors, a Liverpudlian novelist of half-Welsh, half-Irish parentage. Known more for the former than the latter genetic inheritance, at least as concentrated in his nervy, funny, and harrowing fiction that often explores the tension between incomer and native, his often hapless, yet still rather heroic, children of the rave and lager, disco and drugs scenes instigate a new series of incursions. These disaffected youths wander in rattling sub-compacts, hitching rides or waiting by dismal petrol stations. Loaded on cans of beer and packets of crisps, fingers greasy with chips, hands stained by nicotine, fumbling across not the Marches so much as down the road past Wrexham that separates Cymry Cymraeg, Welsh-speaking heartlands, from English-dominant everywhere else.

I've enjoyed his début, the massive and as I guessed vaguely (as all first novels seem to be) semi-autobiographical "Grits." This 2000 text delved into the human detritus left by hedonism in the backwash, geologically and morally, of the Thatcher era. The strip-mall, mercury-lit, beach resort grime sinks into this narrative, and the squalor of squatters on the dole contrasted with the ecstasy on E energizes and dissipates. It's probably one of the best recent attempts I've read (not that I've found many) to explore the highs and lows of the psychedelic experience, at least as I imagine in my innocence how such could be!

He followed with a novel that earned him a comparison that's dogged him, however well intended, with Scots contemporary Irvine Welsh, with "Sheepshagger" (2001). Without spoiling the plot, the inclusion of molestation, which to me seems too often an easy plot contrivance, only slightly lessens the power of this work, perhaps his most renowned. It's a savage and poetic tale, fitting the mountains where its battles unfold. Allegorical without losing touch with the everyday, it's a work I recommend. Griffiths began as a poet, and like Gerard Donovan, the Irish novelist from a similar start, his craft benefits from this apprenticeship.

"Kelly + Victor" (2002) shifts to a gentrifying Liverpool and the S&M relationship of a young pair of lovers who try to make a living amidst the yuppie boom, marginalized from the prosperity of the millennium's turn. While intriguing, it's quite relentlessly clinical. Told in the first half from one side and then the other, the fictional diptych fits together as snugly as the couple, at least on a good night. Technically a bit more daring, it may satisfy those wanting more psychological tension; while I prefer his other works, "K + V" marks his mature determination to apply the panoramic eye to Liverpool as he already has for Wales.

His hometown's half-criminal element also features in the next pair of novels, "Stump" (2003) & "Wreckage" (2005), which make a wonderful tag-team, as they track a couple of clueless amateurs in the aftermath of a roadside heist that leads them into the chemical underground, so to say, of big-city cartels. The conclusion of "Stump" reminds me of a comedy about crooks that ends perfectly. The fact that it doesn't for those involved spawns the rare sequel that equals its predecessor. There's marvelously related fights, conversations that rival Beckett, and the balance between humor and pathos Griffiths handles with increasing ease.

In the interview, Griffiths tells about "Runt" (2006), not seen yet by me. His novels don't get widely published abroad, and invariably I hear about them long after they're out! It's told from a young girl's perspective in her words, so this marks a departure from the voice that often relies on a indirect free and omniscient p-o-v. Griffiths deserves acclaim, and I've championed all of his previous works on Amazon US. He's also prepared books on "Real Aberystwyth"--where he lives now-- and "Real Liverpool." Another book (I reckon a novel?), "Ten Pound Pom," from its title sounds promising, being slated for print this year.

He seems, so far from my five lengthy encounters, to be improving and streamlining his style. It's his intelligent, inquiring analysis that seeks to burrow into the mind and consciousness of those less intelligent, less inquiring who manage to blurt out their stories to you: a difficult feat to pull off convincingly. His enthusiasm for writing-- as you glimpse in this interview-- should inspire you to seek out his enlightening yet entertaining books.

Link: "Interview with Niall Griffiths". Photo: Instead of the one publicity shot that's ubiquitous and that I already used when reviewing "Wreckage" here earlier, I found this of a Finnish translation. Can't tell what, but 2008's mentioned in the blurb. It best captures his typical character's louche (second time that adjective came in handy this week) aplomb. P.S. Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! Happy St. David's Day.

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