NWR Issue r3

Review 3

Wales’ enduring flair for the short story is gradually being recognized on an international stage, with our best writers in the form, including Cynan Jones, Robert Minhinnick, Rebecca F John, Francesca Rhydderch, Tessa Hadley, Tyler Keevil and Carys Davies having being recently recognized by prizes such as the EFG Sunday Times Private Bank Short Story Award, the BBC National Short Story Award, the Edge Hill Short Story Prize, the (American) Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The latter was awarded late last month to Carys Davies’ marvellous collection, The Redemption of Galen Pike, reviewed highly favourably by ourselves in New Welsh Review 107.

Collections by promising authors of the form, Thomas Morris and Rebecca F John, are published between August and October by Faber and Parthian respectively. John was shortlisted for the Sunday Times award for a forthcoming story from her collection, Clown’s Shoes, out today (1 October). This book also featured in our audio review, broadcast next month. Morris, meanwhile, appeared last month alongside Carys Davies at the Cork International Short Story Festival as well as joining the author with Keevil and Minhinnick in the widely praised and authoritative recent showcase, New Welsh Short Fiction, reviewed in our first Review (July, 1). Morris’ debut, We Don't Know What We're Doing (Faber), meanwhile, will be reviewed for us next month by Costa-winning poet, Jonathan Edwards.

In her review of New Welsh Short Fiction (edited Francesca Rhydderch and Penny Thomas, and published by Seren), Vicky MacKenzie admires its celebration of the ‘diversity… internationalism’ and the ‘sometimes downright bizarre’ in contemporary fiction from Wales. MacKenzie emphasised that in this collection, ‘form’ is privileged above ‘the hackneyed “slice of life” model’ for short fiction or indeed any attempt to ‘specially’ represent contemporary Wales. The writers here, as MacKenzie notes, innovate through an epistolary tale, a film script with directions, and a dialogue with unnamed personae. This approach represents a return to form, turning its back on the subject- and issues-based bias of Dai Smith’s Library of Wales anthologies, Story, Vol I and Vol II, published last summer). It reconnects with the modernism of short story veteran Rhys Davies, who was included by Katie Gramich in the Encyclopedia of Literary Modernism.

The latest anthology of winning entries of this year’s Rhys Davies Short Story Competition, Catch of the Day and Other Stories (Accent), is reviewed here. Dan Bradley quotes Davies’ belief that a short story ‘should contain’ a ‘tiny, concentrated explosion’ and concludes that such ‘miniature pyrotechnics’, as Bradley coins them, characterise this collection, leading to structural predictability, ‘snappy reveals and plot twists’ rather than ‘innovative writing’. In the prize’s defence it might be questioned whether competition candidates pay any attention to the style of writers in whose name a prize is given. It is interesting, however, that commissioned and single-author short fiction collections, with the possibility they offer of considered curation by editor or author, are currently getting better reviews than anthologies of open competitions.

Internationalism and diversity are also the trademark of the second collection reviewed here, this time dedicated to Japan’s capital (and, interestingly, presenting two translators from Wales, Dan Bradley and Jonathan Lloyd-Davies). Like Seren’s collection, The Book of Tokyo, A City in Short Fiction eschews national stereotypes. As reviewer Eluned Gramich puts it, ‘any wistful narratives about cherry blossom are quickly dispensed with’ and ‘the ubiquitous tropes of bowing and chopsticks’ avoided. Instead the ‘black’ mood of Rhys Davies’ contemporary acolytes is favoured, alongside ‘quasi-horror’ and surreal touches such as a serial-killer satyr. The Japanese collection also shares with its Welsh counterparts the selection method, incidentally the USP of this magazine, of setting established writers (and translators in this case) alongside those that are emerging and previously unpublished. I wonder to what extent the Welsh collections share Tokyo’s conflicted preoccupation with what seems foreign, different or even more powerful (in Tokyo’s case, ‘The West’)? But perhaps that would be an old-fashioned question that prioritises politics over style.

This time, our sixteen pieces of review and comment are exclusive to subscribers. Look out for Duncan Bush on language, controversy and subsidy (not Ruck revisited but hopefully stimulating response); John Barnie on the flaws of Alun Lewis, man and poet, as Lewis’ unpublished novel and a second biography of him are published; Chris Moss on Robert Minhinnick's 'profoundly meditative' novel of life on the fringes, Limestone Man, and two reviews of books touching on (among a great number of other things) psychoanalytical approaches to Dylan Thomas. One of these is a rave review by Amy McCauley of John Goodby's The Poetry of Dylan Thomas, Under the Spelling Wall which she finds to be a thorough, original, vibrant and approachable work of scholarship which makes a tenacious and flawlessly executed case for reassessing Thomas as a worthy subject for serious literary criticism. The second aforementioned review is by Helen Pendry. This combines an assessment of the heavyweight Liberating Dylan Thomas, Rescuing a Poet from Psycho-sexual Servitude with one of Philip Bounds’ Notes from the End of History, A Memoir of the Left in Wales. In the former, she summaries Barfoot’s rejection of Harold Bloom’s analysis of Thomas’ personality, and her use instead of Kristeva and Lacan to reinterpret the poet’s various infatuations, for example with material language as experienced through the senses and with the body. Barfoot applies the same psychoanalytical filter to Thomas’ apparent regression into a form of adolescence. This sensual obsession together with an apparent immaturity, Pendry quotes Barfoot as asserting, are ‘not evidence of the infantilism of Thomas and his readers’ but rather ‘a form of “body-centredness” and “festival radicalism” that reclaims’ the poet’s notion of a ‘maternal’ source of creativity. Pendry’s neat segue into her timely review of Bounds’ leftist memoir claims, ‘Both [books] suggest we damage our own souls… if we abandon the passions of adolescence in favour of becoming rigidly sensible adults.’


previous editorial: Falling Storeys or Tall Stories
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