REVIEW by Amy McCauley

NWR Issue 106

American Interior

by Gruff Rhys

I truly wanted to like this book. In fact I desperately wanted to like it. Because Gruff Rhys – very much like his subject in American Interior, the dreamer and explorer John Evans – is utterly well meaning. Politically (left-of-centre), musically, (Super Furry Animals, Neon Neon), and creatively (as a deliciously unconforming singer-songwriter), Rhys continues to pursue his personal passions rather than play the commercial ‘pop’ game. He is also, in my view, an artist with integrity, vision, and inspirational principles. On top of this, American Interior has received gushing praise from broadsheet reviewers and internet bloggers, and has even earned Rhys a coveted place on the shortlist for the Guardian First Book Award. All of which makes what I’m about to say pretty heretical. But I will say it nevertheless.

While the subject matter of the book – the sprawling and impossible adventure of John Evans who, in the late eighteenth century travelled through America searching for the Welsh-speaking tribe of Madogwys – is fundamentally compelling, the quality of the writing fails to meet the demands of Rhys’ subject. The prose is often gauche and inelegant, lacking the sophistication necessary to pull off the formal innovations of the text, and the genre mash-up is clumsily realised. Overall, I had a sense of the subject matter overwhelming the writer’s literary capabilities. But let’s return to the subject matter for a moment...

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previous review: Story Volume 1 and Story Volume 2
next review: The Book of the Needle



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