REVIEW by Megan Jones

NWR Issue 100

The Moss Gatherers

by Tia Jones


Set in the heart of a Welsh farming community, and venturing over to Ireland, The Moss Gatherers explores the reality of modern agricultural life. Yet this vividly painted world acts as a mere backdrop to the drama which unfolds within it.

Following an incident which sees their mother hospitalised, Bethan, Richard and Simon are reunited on the Welsh farm where they grew up. Having led dramatically different lives, the siblings have become almost estranged from one another. Yet their mother’s comatose state, and the consequent absence of a guiding voice, serves to rejuvenate their relationships as they confront the bitter consequences of their life choices.

It is Bethan and Richard (and their troubled marriages) who dominate the narrative. What emerges is a thrilling storyline, as Richard’s wife, Nesta, threatens the family farm with divorce proceedings, whilst Bethan’s controlling husband, Malcolm, demonstrates an increasingly unhinged desire to get what he wants. The development of this cruel and manipulative character is fantastically crafted, echoing Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper as Malcolm disassembles Bethan’s confidence. The intensity of his behaviour is increased by the reader experiencing Malcolm’s spine-chilling acts of betrayal through the eyes of his wife.

One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is the educational journey which accompanies the narrative. Through her descriptions of milking and vaccinating cattle, Jones opens her readers’ eyes to a world which exists beyond the supermarket shelves. This extends to the practice of moss gathering, from which the novel takes its name. Jones has crafted her book with a praise-worthy attention to detail. It is obvious that the author fully immersed herself in this environment whilst writing, and it was no great surprise to learn that she currently lives and works on an organic farm.

Jones also does a fantastic job of creating setting. Through thorough accounts of her farms, terrains and characters, she succeeds in lifting her fictional world from its pages. This is aided by the snippets of Welsh embedded in the text (kindly translated into English in the footnotes) which, alongside character names including Tegwyn, Bethan and Elin, reinforce the Welsh roots of the story.

A further technique which Jones excels at is the use of contrast. This is evident from the opening pages, in which we are introduced to the moss gatherers ‘scampering over the heather’ alongside Simon who is ‘stiff in the confined space’ of a plane. She continues to develop this technique throughout the novel, utilising contrasts such as land and sea, which emerge as strong themes within the text.

Yet, in spite of its many achievements, The Moss Gatherers is not faultless. The start of the novel is irritatingly misleading, as many of the characters who take centre stage in the early chapters subsequently fall by the wayside, serving their purpose as catalysts or informers before being exiled into subplots. Furthermore, as exciting as the main storyline is, the problems of Bethan and Malcolm’s marriage somewhat swamp the novel, leaving a distinct lack of breathing space for the subplots to develop and conclude. Not only this, but the ending is inconclusive, with no clear indication as to who has survived the fateful voyage across the Irish Sea.

Whilst the novel in its entirety could have benefited from greater balance, The Moss Gatherers proved to be a compelling and enjoyable read. Jones’s construction of Malcolm is genuinely terrifying, and his acts of betrayal continue to haunt the reader long after the book has been returned to the shelf. The novel also acts as a fascinating window to the farming community, making this novel not only a pleasurable read but also an informative one.

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previous review: God Loves You
next review: The Messenger


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