NWR Issue 111

Spuds and Lobster

To have power is to be sufficiently motivated and assertive to execute our desire, with or without the cooperation of others. Children often lack it, as the fiction protagonists of this edition display. Aidan, in prizewinning Francesca Rhydderch’s Morecambe-set story, ‘Rock Lobster’, has a triple dose of paralysis, all strains rooted in poverty. Aidan’s emotional impotence is in relation to his mother's attitude to sex as a bargaining chip, the start of his gambling problem and the violent loss of his budding friendship with Huan.

Similarly, Christina, in Crystal Jeans’ The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise (a preview from a novel of the same title), is powerless to either understand or divert her mother Catherine’s use of horror film storylines to discipline her girls. Incredulity and laughter at Christina’s being sent to live with Freddie Krueger (in Blackweir, Cardiff ) are just as appropriate responses as admiration at a too-young mother’s will to drive fun into homelife with small children. (Look out for our event with Jeans at Hay Festival on 30 May, her debut novel published the same day by Honno and our video interview at newwelshreview.com/ multimedia.php.) To have the last laugh is a statement of power, and of course it reflects the source of comedy in soil trodden by the dominant and watered with compromise. As Father Ted – and The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise – prove, the best comedy stems from those who are trapped but do porridge with panache.

The stylishness, meanwhile, of major French author Marie Darrieussecq’s story, ‘Three or Four Kilos of Flesh’ (translated by Ceredigion writer Suzy Ceulan Hughes) stems not so much from humour as poignancy (much like that of Rhydderch). Her narrator too, however, while grown up, is thrown back to childhood when her arm is severed. As again with ‘Rock Lobster’, following a horrific accident (though in this case random as opposed to the preventable cockle-gang tragedy of 2004) its protagonist flounders, especially within the child- parent relationship: ‘[My mother] wanted to become my arm. Perhaps she thought that together, the two of us would make a whole body.’ Haunted by her phantom limb, succour for Darrieussecq’s heroine comes from imagination and the rituals of wordplay: in a graveside scene where her arm is the still-born babe and the coffin its cradle. Aidan in ‘Rock Lobster’ has less luck laying his ghosts to rest, perhaps because, despite the early onset of disillusion down the arcades, he’s still, as an unemployable adult, chasing the ‘coveted golden lobster’. We owe thanks to the Pompidou Centre in Paris for stocking this edition and its story, which is a response to Magritte’s ‘Les Marches de l’éte’.

Since my response to the theme of power is to describe its lack, maybe I’m more interested in its opposite (powerlessness has certainly given rise to some great literature). In its meaning of ‘energy’, however, power may yield more straightforward connotations of inspiration and positive action. There is certainly creativity in the work of the north Wales artists of the X-10 collaboration, which Philippa Holloway explores in her curated feature, ‘Power in the Land?’ And yet, as Holloway hints, nuclear power, despite its potential for employment in a disadvantaged area, is by no means a simple benign force, particularly while a solution to its waste disposal remains absent. Alys Conran’s poem, ‘Monologue in A’ subverts the architectural intentions of the original Magnox building: ‘your lookout, // all terrestrial, of slate and mortar, built to view me wrongly / as if I was a landscape.’ I sense the subversion also of certain of the X-10 visual artists’ best efforts: ‘Who in hell cares if you make sun-prints // of my periphery fences like a species of caged beast?’ Certainly, Conran invests Wylfa with a personality as big as David Foster-Morgan’s turbines in ‘Windmills’, published in our autumn 2015 edition (109): ‘These sons are something, / out on the autumn promenade, / ...they should be something; / something suit, shirt, tie, they really are something; it’s time by their something watches.’ Conran’s Wylfa here is an artist to challenge any: ‘I’ll paint / the fields Prussian blue, stain the sheep vermillion, light up / a planetary landscape....’

Despite our democracy, and to return to my original definition of power, the decision around Wylfa B’s development will be made with or without the majority’s informed assent. Faced with, in Alys’ phrase, our need for power sources to ‘[show] up / to boil your potatoes’, as well as financial ones to bring said spuds to the table, impotence is what we feel in relation to such complex issues and the compulsion to compromise. Maybe this is why so much good literature in Wales is about surviving under the boot.


previous editorial: What's the Time, Mr Wolf?
next editorial: Punks and Safety Pins


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