NWR Issue r16

Some Small Portion of Eternity

Those old Welsh themes, memory, place, exile and inheritance, continue in this edition. We publish here a preview of Ynys Môn novelist Tristan Hughes’ Hummingbird. Draped in this author’s trademark melancholy, as though it were beautifully lit through pondweed, the novel is ultimately more upbeat than his previous works. It thrums with positive messages about the continuity of history and nature, and the power and limits of artefacts and maps, even suggesting healthful approaches to truly holding a place and a loved one in mind when we are exiled from both.

Simultaneously a map and an artefact, the family photograph album inspired Jeremy Hooker’s latest poetry collection, Ancestral Lines, reviewed here by Jack Pugh. Within it, Pugh writes, Hooker attempts to reconcile the grittiness of ‘place’ with its memory.

Ancestry and inheritance continue as themes identified by Jem Poster in his review of The Doll Funeral, Kate Hamer’s second novel for Faber, which is enriched by a shadowy supernatural dimension.

Inheritance is also the concern of Katherine Stansfield in the first of her historical crime series, Falling Creatures. In our video interview with the Cardiff-resident author, published in our latest edition, (Review 15, April), Stansfield spoke of writing in exile from a childhood landscape: for her, Bodmin Moor (Tristan Hughes’ fiction, similarly, is perpetually in exile both from his technically native Ontario and his childhood home of Llangoed). Ashley Owen, reviewing the novel here in Review 16, notes a prevailing mood of ‘quiet unease’ which belies its scandalous subject-matter fit for penny dreadfuls (brutal murder, love triangle, same-sex love). Stansfield, like Hamer (and Sarah Waters) skilfully employs the supernatural, and has certain of her characters recognise its power to manipulate others.

Is death, meanwhile, too grave a subject for a first-person plural guidebook around authors’ final old haunts?
Chris Moss, in this edition reviewing Deaths of the Poets, by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley, believes so.

And to circle in again on artefacts, following the death of Derek Walcott, Robert Minhinnick writes how the poet liberated him to mythologise the things we value that are closest to us:

For squabs like myself, Walcott became a champion to challenge the self-absorption of the English and the unvanquishable smugness of their enormous history. He found he could mythologise his own experience. Or, what he discovered in his homeland supported, even welcomed, mythologising. That’s what writers slowly come to realise. That they are myth makers. And that the myths they are creating come from the ordinary stories they discover around them. Stories of, yes, Sea Grapes and sea almonds, of muddy mangroves and Saint Lucian driftwood. What Derek Walcott created was an iconography of home that suggested how a past and a future might exist together. Here was an inexhaustible resource.

As Tristan Hughes’ latest novel suggests, maybe objects, maybe maps are not much help in keeping hold of a lost place, an exiled love. A salving sense of continuity is more likely to be found through nature and history, especially at the most local level. As Minhinnick writes on Walcott, myths are made from ordinary stories found around us. And as Zach writes in Hummingbird of his final lasting memory of intact family happiness, on Sitting Down Lake:

The sun was getting low in the west and the surface of the bay was alive with its glittering light. And I remembered… us standing here watching the caboose disappear… and then that first turning of her heads to glimpse the lake’s waters. The light on that water – that was what I thought about then. And I think of it still. And if I have ever seen some small portion of eternity it was there and is there and will always be there.


previous editorial: Review 15 Editorial
next editorial: Roman Wall Blues


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