RAM WITH RED HORNS by Rhys Davies
Kirkus Star

RAM WITH RED HORNS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The final work, unpublished and in fact undiscovered until after his death, of a superb Welsh writer (1903-78) known for his novels (The Withered Root, 1927), colorful autobiography (Print of a Hare's Foot, 1969), and stories (The Chosen One, 1967). The tale here is a relentless character study, set in the village of Bedd Einion and focused on the gradual changes that overtake Rhonwen, a middle-aged woman who, having discovered her jaunty husband's persistent infidelity, impulsively pushes him off a cliff and pretends ignorance of his death. Davies then analyzes what becomes of Rhonwen as she arranges for her Adda's funeral and claims his insurance money, takes up drinking and smoking, and indulges in a spendthrift life so alluring that it leads her into ever stranger actions and their consequences. These latter are dominated by the ghostly figure of a menacing red-homed ram (""Sometimes he did not appear as a visual presence at all, only as an invisible assertion lurking deep in the caverns of her mind, or as an odour pervading whatever meaningless dream she had""). It's a brilliant symbol, embodying Rhonwen's guilt, her fear of judgment, and the moral impasse to which her crime brings her (her attempts to confess are met only with compassionate disbelief). Davies's portrayal of rural Wales is pleasingly spare and stark, and he casts Rhonwen's confusion into high relief by contrasting her inwardness and taciturnity with the comparatively voluble personalities of other people whom she deceives and manipulates: Dan ""Insurance"" Evans, the agent whom she briefly thinks of marrying; the stern and devoutly Christian Mrs. Pyle-Williams, who had hoped to buy Rhonwen's house; and especially her husband's mistress Eirene, a distracted child-woman who's eternally weeping because of her malformed tear ducts (another expertly used symbol). Despite a surprisingly abrupt ending, and inconclusive internal evidence suggesting Davies may have left the novel unfinished, this is a vivid and unusual story--and a fine introduction, as it happens, to the work of a very substantial writer.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1997
Page count: 180pp
Publisher: Dufour