WALES HALF WELSH by John Williams


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Down and Out in Cardiff and Abersytwyth, with variations.

Not enough, actually, in this uneven gathering of 18 stories by 12 contemporary Welsh writers, who embody the wavering commitment to ethnic identity discussed in editor Williams’s witty introduction. The volume starts off smashingly with Sean Burke’s “The Trials of Mahmood Mattan,” a rich re-creation of the (historical) false conviction and execution of a Somali immigrant for the murder of a Welsh pawnbroker. Its Dostoevskyan intensity casts a shadow almost instantly defused by an overabundance of sketchy exercises in kitchen-sink realism (though a few might as accurately be labeled “bidet realism”)—framed in gritty tours through man streets and sweaty sheets (e.g., Anna Davis’s “Hiding in Cheesy’s Bedroom,” Rachel Trezise’s “Valley Lines,” Lloyd Robson’s “The Vinegar Mix”). Similar materials are better treated in Trezza Azzopardi’s limpid picturing of an unemployable loner (“Shorthold”) and Tessa Hadley’s Doris Lessing–inflected chronicle of a woman political activist’s empty love life (“The Enemy”). Mordant humor redeems Desmond Barry’s knowing tale of a petty criminal whose “Fresh Start” in America is imperiled by his manic-depressive girlfriend—and strikes refreshing sparks in Malcolm Pryce’s “Human See, Human Do,” a detective-story parody so perfectly calibrated that it makes perfect sense when a search for a missing chimpanzee is complicated by the scientifically created fear of flowers. Editor Williams contributes a lively story about an amusingly cretinous career criminal (“The Colonel and the Mercenary”). Best of all are three stories from Rabelaisian iconoclast Niall Griffiths: a foul-mouthed account of the attempted—and bungled—burglary of a gay couple’s posh digs (“Turd-burglars”); a beautifully crafted ghost story about the ultimate worst in a rented room (“Fran and the Witch and Me”); and a distinctly weird vignette (“Stigmata”) in which a schoolroom tiff escalates into a bloody religious experience (so to speak).

A mixed bag, worth dipping into—especially for Griffiths.

Pub Date: April 15th, 2005
ISBN: 0-7475-6606-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury UK/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2005


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