Monday, 20 December 2010

Not Quite White

Title: Not Quite White

Author: Simon Thirsk

Number of pages: 480

Started: 14 December 2010

Finished: 20 December 2010

Opening words:

My name is Gwalia. I am and Island. Head of Bran. Soul of Llywelyn.
Gwalia – what possessed my Mam to call me that?
This was my mantra in those darkest days. My notes here, in my diary, are very confused. These words are written many times, sometimes gouged and sometimes scrawled: My name is Gwalia. I am an Island
As you learned, Jon, all names have meaning here. Names of people. And of places. All our history is here. This is our language and culture. Ancient and living still.

Plot summary:

The young Jon Bull is sent by Westminster to Wales's last remaining Welsh-speaking town to see why all attempts to bring it into the twenty-first century have failed. Waiting for him is the beautiful but embittered Gwalia...Not Quite White explores the complex tensions that spit and seethe when English colonialism and Welsh nationalism go head to head. It is a passionate defence of cultural and political identity, and a considered plea for tolerance. It is also a sustained attack on the forces of small-town bigotry and corruption. But, above all, it is an acknowledgement of the subtleties and ambiguities that exist in even the most entrenched attitudes.

What I thought:

This was, by far, my favourite of the Costa First Novels shortlist. This was an enjoyable read, which looked at a small Welsh community trying to hold on to its own identity, most particularly its use of the Welsh language.

Of this shortlist, it was probably the one that read least like a first novel i.e. it lacked the clunkiness of some of the others, although it still lacked the depth that some of the more established authors on the (other) Novels shortlist had. The book was funny in places and touching in others and it had a plot that made me want to read on.

There were parts of this that gave me pause for thought. The book was written by someone who was English and I wondered how someone Welsh would see the portrayal of their countryman. It did also have quite a bit of Welsh in it (and a glossary) which broke up the flow of the book for me. That said, to me it outshone the others on the first novels shortlist.

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