Thursday, 23 February 2012

Blow on a Dead Man's Embers - Mari Strachan

I lived in South Wales for three years early in my marriage.... and the feel of the village in which Non, her husband Davey and her three stepchildren live is there, on the printed page.  The Welshness of the speech patterns seems just so right, and so too are the descriptions of the characters, making me think, during the early part of the book, of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood. 

But whilst Milk Wood might amuse, this book has serious subjects to concentrate on.  The returning soldiers who were described as "shell-shocked" then, were actually suffering post traumatic stress -  but no-one knew how to deal with them.  Davey is one such.  He's a coffin maker and carpenter, and appears normal to everyone except Non, who sees him, early every morning, under the kitchen table reliving a certain time in the trenches.  Their marriage is physically over - he has told her that he had an affair with a nurse whilst in a hospital recovering from wounds - although as a father and provider he is still present.  But Non, with her weak heart since birth, is still only 29.  Must this be the rest of her life?  She wants Davey back - but how to do that?

The descriptions of every character, from the minor,  her youngest step-son Osian (what might be described as an idiot savant now),   her lying and jealous mother in law Catherine, and the nosey next door neighbour with constant bowel troubles, to the major - her husband Davey, her friend Lizzy German, and of course herself, Non,  make them come alive.  I couldn't put it down - and although its not a thriller it has several mysteries satisfyingly cleared up as the story progresses.  Also cleverly woven into the story are women's voting rights; the early Labour movement in Wales; the Irish uprising, and the business of how women took care of business whilst men were away at war. 

I loved her first novel "The Earth Hums in E Flat", which had a touch of magic realism about it, and the major character was a child; and I love this one too.  A Welsh writer to be proud of - and to read!