REVIEW by Philip Clement

NWR Issue 104

Six Pounds Eight Ounces

by Rhian Elizabeth

Six Pounds Eight Ounces introduces Hannah King, a precocious five year old brought up in the Rhondda Valley within a community that offers little prospect for her future. Elizabeth’s debut novel showcases a narrative voice that is beautifully self-assured, coaxing the reader into the growing pains of a young girl experimenting with The Truth and fiction. As she grows into Tonypandy, Hannah finds that her greatest struggle is with The Truth, which has been presented to her from an early age by her mother as being a constant with rather elastic parameters. As a liar, Hannah finds this to be a difficult concept and on one occasion, after inviting a boy from school to a birthday party she is not having, Hannah is memorably told by her mother that The Truth is all that matters. As a result of this early encounter, adult relationships with The Truth and their inability to distinguish between Hannah’s childish fantasies and direct fallacies provide the fuel for many of her future issues later in the novel: ‘apparently it’s OK for my mum to lie though because her lies are white.’

These misinterpretations prompt Hannah to construct ever more destructive fantasies that offer her the sense of control that she craves. Eventually she finds the most cathartic release on offer to her is writing:
One day I will probably explode, and I thought I would that time, thought my disappointment would slide out of me like green slime… But then I found them – words – upstairs, alone in my room.

For a time, Six Pounds demonstrates an endearingly atavistic innocence, but shortly before her move into secondary school Hannah befriends Jess, a girl with a mischievous aura. The two quickly develop a friendship and become as thick as thieves, leaving petty havoc in their wake:
If one of the teachers liked teaching once, they definitely don’t any more…They trip up, we laugh. They cry and it’s even funnier... although when I say we I don’t actually mean me and Jess… We’re going places we are.

Despite the girls’ dreams for themselves, it is clear from their humble beginnings that Elizabeth has darker intentions for the pair and these are realised in a series of events that claim the stabilizing presence of both their fathers.

Elizabeth’s decision to use the ever more popular first person present pulls the reader into a resplendent display of self-destruction. It is clear that she understands her young narrator and the situations Hannah is placed in are driven by this understanding. Midway through the novel, the girls lose their status at school and begin a downward spiral: ‘They'll just think we’ve both caught the same bug. Because no one would suspect us to bunk off would they.’

The pace of storytelling becomes relentless as Hannah and Jess become more unstable until at last, barely resembling themselves, they begin to seek a place to lay their blame: ‘We used to be their daughters but now we’re monsters. And if we are monsters, then they'’re the ones who made us... Jess’ mother and my mother... they’re our very own Frankenstein’s.’

Six Pounds Eight Ounces treads the boundaries between comedy and tragedy with a meticulous ease. Elizabeth opens up the pages of Hannah’s notebook and delivers a searing self-interrogation of the girl’s childhood in a fractious community within the Rhondda Valley. At times the intensity of this quest to locate Hannah within turbulent surroundings can be painful and hard to bear, especially when combined with the sheer magnitude of her defeats. Despite this, Hannah’s attitude, unwashed band T-shirts and habit of presenting herself as an anarchic Adrian Mole; the reader can’t help but feel for her when things (consistently) go wrong. One must continually pinch oneself in order remember that Hannah King is a liar and that these are her lies. Do not give up hope.

Philip Clement writes for New Welsh Review and has recently completed a year-long marketing residency at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden Flintshire.

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previous review: A Pearl of Great Price: The Love Letters of Dylan Thomas to Pearl Kazin
next review: Keith Vaughan, Figure and Ground


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