The Island of Apples

On 13th November the Reading Wales book group met to discuss The Island of Apples by Glyn Jones. Despite a lower turnout this month (several members sending their apologies) we managed to have a good discussion.

The Island of Apples is a story of a boy whose life changes radically when he befriends Karl – a boy whom Dewi’s father rescues from a river. Opinions vary as to whether Karl is real or whether he exists only in Dewi’s imagination; the author maintained that he did exist. From the moment Dewi meets Karl, he takes an instant liking to him, adores him, constantly fantasises about him, even finds him physically attractive. Recently, there has been more discussion regarding the relationship between the two boys. Most critics see it as a homosocial one, an example of male bonding, but it does verge on homoerotic at times.

Nevertheless, Karl’s appeal lies, to a great extent, in his being an outsider to the close-knit community of Ystrad as well as his life experience. Through listening to the stories of his adventures (although it is clear to the reader that many of them must be made up) the boys experience excitement they are hungry for. Moreover, for Dewi, Karl serves as a male role model he does not have at home since his mother has the upper hand in the relationship with her husband.

Critics often tend to see Karl as embodying an idealized version of Dewi’s childhood, his adventures being things Dewi would like to have done himself. However, for me, Karl represents the force that helps Dewi make the necessary transition into adulthood. Karl’s eloquent, comes across as mature and knows how to talk to adults. It is only through him that the boys are able to stand up to their oppressors, especially Growler, their heasmaster, who never misses an opportunity to humiliate them. Karl helps Dewi grow by contributing to the deaths of all the adults who controlled Dewi’s life, although due to the uncertainty regarding Karl’s existence, it is unclear whether the deaths are real or symbolic.

We liked the different paces of narrative in the novel and the suspended narrative at the beginning, We suggested that it may be better to let the story wash over you rather than trying to make sense of it at all times. This book is a story of a boy trying to make sense of the world himself and perhaps should be read as such.

Word and Image: The Art of Brenda Chamberlain

On 23rd October Bangor University hosted the annual T. Rowland Hughes lecture. This year’s lecture was given by Dr. Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Welsh, University of Cardiff and was entitled ‘Word and Image: The Art of Brenda Chamberlain’.

Brenda Chamberlain was a visual artist and writer born in Bangor in 1912. She wrote books such as The Green Heart, Tide Race, The Water-castle, A Rope of Vines and Poems with Drawings. With her husband, John Petts, also an artist, she set up Caseg Press. The couple, joined by Alun Lewis, produced Caseg Broadsheets, a series of hand-printed broadsheets of sketches and poems also featuring poetry by Dylan Thomas and Lynette Roberts.

Dr. Lloyd-Morgan mentioned that Brenda Chamberlain was an important role model for herself and her friends due to the fact that Chamberlain was a successful female artist who achieved a professional career at a time when few women managed to do so. Dr. Lloyd-Morgan’s lecture focused on two areas: she talked about, firstly, to what extent the places where Chamberlain lived proved formative and, secondly, in what ways word and image, two forms of artistic expression, influenced each other in Chamberlain’s work.

Dr. Lloyd-Morgan argued that Brenda Chamberlain would have rejected the label of a ‘local’ or ‘Welsh artist’, but, despite being an English speaker, not fluent in Welsh, Chamberlain had a strong grasp of Welsh language and culture and her poems are inspired by Welsh rhymes and songs. (Dr. Lloyd-Morgan even sang to us a traditional Welsh song ‘Modryb Elin Ennog’ that inspired one of Chamberlain’s poems.) Moreover, during the 15 years she lived on Bardsey Island, Chemberlain often painted the day-to-day island life. Her birthplace, Bangor, on the other hand, meant a lot to her, but she never wrote about it or painted it. Brenda Chamberlain lived outside Bangor (South Kensington, Greek island of Hydra, Germany, Bardsey Island) for most of her life and therefore not belonging (by virtue of birth and/or language) is an important theme in her poetry.

Secondly, Dr. Lloyd-Morgan argued, Brenda Chamberlain was a visual artist as well as writer and worked in both media because she found just one medium of expression inadequate. However, she would at times feel as if she had to choose between the two and one form of expression would dominate for a while. This resulted in a split-minded state, which mirrored her sense of living in spaces in between and not belonging in the places where she lived.

Attending this lecture made me realise the importance of organising events such as this one. After the lecture a gentlemen from the audience asked a question about a painting by Brenda Chamberlain he owns, ‘A Red Cathedral’, which, it turned out, Dr. Lloyd-Morgan had not heard of it before and which has never been made available for the public to view.  It is great if events like this one bring like-minded people together and lead to sharing knowledge.

If you would like to learn more about Brenda Chamberlain, you may want to have a look at a new biography by Jill Piercy published earlier this year.