Maybe we deserve it. Maybe our literature is second rate when compared to elsewhere. Is there an Amis or McEwan out there?
Those writers who are acknowledged in British terms are almost always the ones published on the other side of Offa's Dyke : Niall Griffiths, Robert Minhinnick and Gillian Clarke being prime examples, though there is Owen Sheers, who was practically born and raised in the Hayfest and whose series about poets in specific places on BBC was so excellent on the whole (especially the programme on Lynette Roberts). Sheers has had to leave this country in order to make it , however.
Perhaps we are doing it wrong this side of the Severn. We should be clamouring to get published in England by one of the major houses there, not sending our work off to Seren and Gomer.
Yet, I have just finished reading a novel which has changed my life. Many books do this , of course, but not in the revelatory way that can only happen on rare occasions. Afterwards, everything has changed. 'Catch 22' did this for me, as did Kesey's 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' and, most certainly, '1984' and 'The Handmaid's Tale'.
But this book is one from and about Wales , though with an important European dimension. It is called 'Everything Must Change' , published by Seren and written by Grahame Davies. I knew Grahame when he was a journalist at the 'Merthyr Express'. I didn't even know he was a poet then, never mind such a great novelist.
The novel was longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year in its original Welsh-language form in 2005. As far as I know, the English version has received no prizes. For this novel, Davies deserves international acclaim. It is simply the best novel I have ever read from our nation.
In 'Everything Must Change' he creates two parallel worlds which nevertheless have remarkable connections : the one world is of contemporary Wales and a seasoned campaigner for Cymraeg called Meinwen and the other is France before and during the 2nd World War
and the character of Simone Weil, a political thinker and philosopher who believed in living and working with the rural poor and proletariat in order to fully realise their suffering.
I have to admit I cried at the end of the novel and fiction rarely has this kind of impact ; songs regularly do though. Not since the stories of Bernard MacLaverty have I been so moved. I didn't want to leave Meinwen and Simone behind, but knew I must. The novel made me re-think my perceptions of Wales and Europe, of political struggles but , above all, it brought to life the ideas and conflicts of its two protagonists so vividly.
I followed closely their journeys and their changes. How Simone's unique view of the world was fashioned by her times , but also stood outside those times and how Meinwen underwent such a radical development through painful experiences. In a way, Weil represents the complexity of Europe itself and Meinwen that of a modern Wales, yet both are so much more than mere ciphers for Davies's theories; indeed his own political agenda is never uppermost.
I could go on, but the best thing I can do is recommend this book. It's a grave injustice that it still exists on the periphery; if the battles of our people had been fought with bombs and guns then probably the London literati would pay more attention!
This is a topical poem once again. I've noted that newsreaders wisely avoid pronouncing the name of the volcano in Iceland causing so much disruption : -
BLACK DUST FROM EYJAFJALLAJOKULL
Black dust from Eyjafjallajokull
(I'm glad I don't play Icelandic Scrabble!),
grounded passengers under the bright blue.
I'm wondering if Bjork or Sigur Ros
will translate into song for us
those strange upper atmosphere winds.
The volcano dormant since the 1820's,
silica dust from the smoky steam,
the glacier's melting, farms deserted.
Gone the conspiracies, welcome meteorologists!
Having besmirched pensions with their banks,
now eruptions are travelling southwards.
Eyjafjallajokull sounds an invention of Lewis Carroll,
some Jabberwocky monster made of lava
belching sulphurous poison into the air.
Reach for inhalers, examine insurance policies,
take photos of the violet sunsets
before black rain sizzles down on all.