Christopher Meredith’s Shifts, was recently chosen as the Greatest Welsh novel by Welsh Arts Review. However, the book of our February meeting was his second novel Griffri.

Griffri is a historical novel set in the twelfth century, although not a historical novel in a traditional sense, as the book  does not contain any dates.

The book is an autobiography of Griffri, a poet and storyteller ‘the keeper of memory’, to Morgan, the prince of Gwynllwg and later his brother Iorwerth. Griffri’s story spans fourty years and the narrative is framed by his retelling of the story to Idnereth, a Cistercian monk. The first part of the book depicts the twelfth-century Gwent as a violent contact zone due to the frequent invasions of the Anglo-Normans and shows the power struggle between the Welsh princes themselves as well as the members of Morgan’s family. The second part of the story is Griffri’s attempt to make sense of the events in hindsight.

Some critics see the choice of the setting – Meredith’s birthplace, Gwent – as crucial, and interpret the novel as his attempt to repossess the history of the area as essentially Welsh. Nevertheless, although some of the characters are real figures, the preface states that ‘all of the people in this story are fictional, including the ones that really existed’.

As well as being an autobiography of a poet, Griffri examines the role of memory and storytelling in creating identity both of individuals and nations. While memory is shown to be inaccurate and unstable – Griffri cannot remember whether he ‘remembers the story or remembers the remembering’ – in order to belong, to know ‘who’s us’ making sense of the past and imposing order on the memory, re-making it into a coherent narrative, is a necessary element in creating a nation’s history.