I enjoyed this very much indeed because of young Gwenni – one of the most well developed and believable, and yes, likeable, children in fiction that I’ve read. I don’t think I will forget her. It is also one of the most subtle coming of age novels (well, perhaps not the blood-in-the-bed scene) in which Gwenni doesn’t know what’s happening to her (to Richard ‘I’m your friend, not your girlfriend’.)
Thank goodness Strachan had the confidence not to explain away her flying (I fly in my dreams, but only just off the ground which doesn’t give me her perspective) or the animated inanimate objects. My mother had a fox fur like Mrs Llywelyn Pugh and I both loathed and was terrified by it, especially where it bit itself as the clasp – that seemed an exquisitely cruel refinement. Some of the descriptions and images are so good – within a couple of pages we have ‘The silvery surface of the spoons has rubbed away in places and the yellow metal underneath gives the jelly a bitter tang.’ p 146 and ‘her slippers [are] green with a red pom-pom each, and too big; I can wiggle my toes around in the shape of her feet in them.’ p 149 Yes, yes, yes. I’ve just reread chp 13 which is quite brilliant in the way it shows (rather than tells) us about Gwenni’s relationship with her mother. The only false note, I think, is the dinner table scene in which Bethan shares the facts of life with her family – no, no, no, not at that time in that family. And what a satisfactory ending or rather, lack of ending.
What I don’t think works quite so well is the detective genre in which Strachan locates this tale – just too many murders, suicides and unexplained deaths for a small Welsh community surely? And therefore the tale takes a little longer than it needs to. I think this was all rather melodramatic.
Because we only see with Gwenni’s eyes we don’t begin to understand why Mam should remain so devoted to Ifan Evans or why Tada should be so devoted to Mam. This is unsettling, but I wonder if Strachan is saying that we never really do or can understand – and the extreme example of this is the mind of someone who is mentally ill.
Look forward to talking about this on the 28th.