Memories of family, single parenthood and sheep in the remote wilds of Wales.
In the first 150 pages of her memoir, Clare describes the courtship and marriage of his willful, endearing, frustrating parents. Though Jenny and Robert were journalists in London, she insisted on buying a farm in Wales for weekend getaways and, as the months rolled by, wanted to spend more and more time there. But the arrival of the children made it clear to Robert that they simply could not afford the second property. Eventually, Jenny had to choose, and went for the sheep and the Welsh landscape over her marriage. Clare’s descriptions of that landscape are evocative and simple: “In the cold the mountains look like clenched fists,” he writes. Remarkably evenhanded portraits of his parents present their flaws and foibles with generosity and sensitivity; without editorializing, the author offers lengthy quotations from Jenny and Robert’s letters and journals. He falters, however, when discussing his boyhood. Conversations with Jenny about the possibility that the farm is haunted are a bit too precious, as are transcribed “chats” with cuckoo birds: “ ‘Cuckoo,’ he shouted. ‘CUCKOO!’ I answered. ‘Cuck-coo?’ he replied. . . . ‘Cuckcoo,’ I affirmed.” Fortunately, the memoir comes back around to Jenny, who decided after a failed love affair to sell the farm. Clare renders the leave-taking beautifully. “ ‘Well, goodbye, little farm,’ Jenny said. . . . It sounded strange and unconvincing, as though neither she nor the place really believed she was leaving.”
Generally uneven—at its best, this recalls Jill Ker Conway’s Road from Coorain; at its worst, a school theme paper.