The text under scrutiny in the February reading group was Deborah Kay Davies’s ‘Wales Book of the Year 2008’ winning collection of short stories Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful. The short stories are predominantly concerned with the experiences of sisters, Grace and Tamar, and that of their mother. Members of the group felt that this was a difficult text to get close to, as the author has made it hard for the reader to develop fondness for any of the characters. However, further discussion of the stories threw up the notion that, in contrast to the masculine narratives of industry which dominate Welsh literature, this is a new and refreshing voice, giving a platform to women to speak about female experiences. Davies challenges the scripted roles of femininity by questioning the assumptions held by the reader regarding motherhood, girls, and families. Grace and Tamar are at times vicious, violent and sexually inquisitive, and do not conform to what society expects of happy little girls. Davies, it would seem, was ahead of her time in 2008, as the concept of ‘the girl’ as a problematic figure is only recently becoming a feature of popular literary culture in novels such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. She also deals with issues of post-natal depression and madness, as well as challenging the issue of disconnection and rejection between a mother and baby. These are ideas which may be unsettling to read about, but Davies makes no attempt to comfort the reader, and it was felt by the group that this was to her credit, as for too long in literature, women have been made to feel inadequate by unattainable portrayals of girlhood, womanhood and motherhood.
The January ‘Reading Wales’ reading group had a vibrant discussion about Caradog Pritchard’s novel ‘Un Nos Ola Leuad’ / ‘One Moonlit Night’. The general consensus was that this is an exciting text which heralded a shift in Welsh literature towards postmodern tendencies, including that of an unreliable narrator, chronological anti-linearity, and a sense of the uncanny. Thematic contents were discussed, with particular reference to madness in a ‘gwerin’ society breaking under the strain of unattainable Nonconformist morlaity, and the disintegration of this society as a direct result of industrialisation. The mythical, some would say, “problematic”, middle section of the text was discussed, where the narrator experiences hallucinogenic imagery of ‘Brenhines y Llyn’, but we remain perplexed as to it’s meaning! Perhaps, this is just how Pritchard intended it to be. An unsettling, but ultimately, exciting novel.