REVIEW by Phillip Clement

NWR Issue 106

Local Therapy: Stories & Parables from Algeria and Ham & Jam and A Pearl

by Soleïman Adel Guémar & Childe Rolande

Hafan, from the Welsh word meaning haven, sanctuary, asylum, is the imprint run by Tom Cheeseman to raise funds and awareness for the Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group. Together, Soleïman Adel Guémar’s Local Therapy and Childe Rolande’s Ham & Jam and A Pearl demonstrate the quality of work produced by Hafan Books and, by extension, the Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers Support Group.

Soleïman Adel Guémar worked as a freelance journalist in Algeria, investigating human rights violations between 1991 and 2002, before claiming political asylum in the UK following threats to his life. The stories in this collection demonstrate a fighter’s spirit in Adel Guémar’s prose, often visceral and provocative. Each addresses with perfect clarity the everyday agonies of contemporary Algeria. Unavoidably political throughout, if Local Therapy is brutal or hard to bear, it’s worth remembering that fictions take their inspiration from the darkest experiences of a nation.

However, despite the miasma of despair that understandably pervades Local Therapy, the stories reflect a philosophy that passionately enforces the dignity of the people at the heart of Adel Guémar’s collection. ‘The Poet’s Garden’, a fable reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant’, offsets certain horrors of Algerian life with Adel Guémar’s typical injection of dark irony and the fantastical Utopian paradise of his hero, The Poet. In a city driven by commercial desire and the worldwide business fever ‘hafmorstuff’, a poet establishes his own slice of heaven only to be accused by the political elite of exhibitionism, but meets resistance when the political elite acknowledge that he operates ‘outside of their own circle of brains’.

Childe Rolande is the Arthurian pen name of Langollen-based concrete poet Peter Noël Meilleur. English born and raised in Quebec, Rolande’s poetic inheritance can be found in the works of Dylan Thomas, the Dadaists and the Surrealists; Ham & Jam and A Pearl is his first book-length publication by a Welsh Press.

Told through its constituent parts, Ham & Jam and A Pearl is a clever piece which locates itself somewhere in the cultural landscape between the terrains of an Edward Lear nonsense and the theatrical worlds of Becket and Barker. The pieces take their initial inspiration from Act II Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which Polonius seeks to determine Hamlet’s feelings on certain matters asking. ‘What are your plans for the future of the planet, my lord Hamlet?’ From this point Rolande constructs a dynamic verbal soundscape around the phoneme ‘-am’, off which Hamlet bounds, unpredictably displaying a loquacious flair and great verbosity that is juxtaposed by Polonius’ interrogative repetition of his initial question.

Conversely, in A Pearl, Rolande constructs a mirrored world for his characters. Still bound by the constrictions of his imposed speechscape, Hamlet appears before the reader as a prisoner bound in his repetition of an ideal: a pearl. In this extension on the last, Polonius has Hamlet, feigning madness, as his victim. The latter is found seated in a chair, parts of his body wired to a hand-cranked field telephone which emits an electric shock whenever Polonius is dissatisfied by a pearl. These repeated pearls are set against each other by meanings implied through Polonius varied interrogation: ‘ – What will save us from perdition / – A pearl / – What will you be remembered for? / – A pearl / What will I be remembered for? / A pearl.’

Hamlet’s entrapment can be viewed as an extended metaphor of the subversion present within the court at Elsinore. It’s clear that together Ham & Jam and A Pearl represent Rolande’s manifesto; with both pieces he entreats the reader to be wary of slavery to language. Here Rowlande demonstrates a playful and revolutionary approach to form and confronts the arbitrary materiality of linguistics.

Phillip Clement is a contributor to New Welsh Review online and in print.


previous review: Estuary
next review: Playing House


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