Trapped indoors between heavy rain sluicing down the mountain and mist swirling up from the valley floor, I turned to my book. I’d brought a big fat one, We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. It’s a minute detailing of Irish-American family life, practically in real time, but even that wasn’t long enough to last out the rain. Aghast at being bookless I had a hunt along my host’s shelves, and a thin paperback fell into my hand. The Life of Rebecca Jones, by Angharad Price.
My host is Welsh, like me. I was interested to discover a novel translated from Welsh and I glanced at the back cover. ‘Price’s book can claim a place on the shelf beside Berger, Sebald and Ondaatje. Widely hailed as the first Welsh classic of the 21st century’.
I started reading.
Oh my goodness. What a discovery.
I finished it at a sitting, as they say. It was like falling down the rabbit hole, tumbling into a place and time long gone, but which I once knew well. The book is a work of poetry and social history as well as fiction, spare and quaint and stoical, and at the same time wildly romantic. As sonorous as a chapel organ, it’s the story of a farming family scraping a living off the mountainside in a harsh and lovely place. I sat in village school with children like those described here, and went to play in their farmyards and hay barns. There was tea in the farm kitchen, bread and butter before bara brith, and always a plain-faced clock ticking on the shelf above the range. The book tells of sheep shearing and haymaking and Sunday chapel, temperance and black Bibles and the births of children, early deaths and family agonies and the circuits of memory.
After I closed it I sat thinking and looking out at another view, a different place but in its way as sharp and particular as rural mid-Wales. I was pondering on families, and the way memories shift in the mind’s mist. Tomorrow I fly home to check the proofs of Daughter of the House, and after that begin over again.
Rosie, your post itself is like a poem! Thanks for the title and author of the book – I will look out for it. My ‘memories’ of Wales are second hand, from my father, who never quite reconciled himself to the fact that he would never see his beloved Welsh valleys or mountains again. His Wales was the opposite end to yours though – in more ways than one! 🙂 He came from the Rhondda and the mining community, so a lot of his memories stemmed from the tin bath in the yard; lungs full of coal dust and trying to get the black marks from his skin in time for the Saturday night dances! 🙂 To my shame, I have never visited Wales although I keep telling myself I must, even if just to look for some of the places he waxed so passionately about. One day, maybe! Have a good trip back.
Beautiful words! Shared and tweeted
Thank you, Ann.