A young narrator recounts the village life of Bethesda in Wales where he is growing up with his ailing Mam, best friends Huw and Moi, and an assortment of idiosyncratic people. Set during the first World War and translated from the original Welsh, I found this classic novel hypnotic, one happenstance rolling into the next with lyrical prose and stunning imagery.
The boy’s awareness of adult behaviour is both naïve and heart-wrenching, as well as unsettling for a reader like me. He has several graphic encounters, from death to mental illness, told without prejudice or judgement, and his stream-of-consciousness narrative remains strong. One thing the boy is absolutely certain of—he will not work in the slate quarry.
Looking back as an adult, I recall feeling distanced from what was really going on. This boy is in the thick of things and Prichard captures his thoughts so beautifully for adult readers. Some chapters brought tears to my eyes. In chapter 4, my favourite paragraphs are when the boy awakens after a picnic. He feels the desolation of being left behind and desperately tries to find his way home. I remember that type of heart-thumping experience!
A great description ‘It was raining stair rods in the morning and I was sitting in school with wet feet cos my shoes leaked’ and in search of dry socks, he discovers a dead body. The quest to find out what happened is revealed in chatter between the boy and Huw. Further into the book, disaster strikes with three significantly life-changing farewells.
Often a bad experience is offset by a good one; a kind gesture (usually a slice of bread) parish humour, the choir, a football match, and rollicking outdoor adventures with school friends which paint a beautiful picture of his part of Wales.
It’s never defined but I think author Caradog Prichard is reliving his early life, factual elements blending with history and mystery. These days it would probably be described drily as ‘social commentary’.
Modern writers would do well to study this slim volume. Roaming in the grown-up world of teachers, priests, policemen and illness, the boy is observant but has no power of his own and that simplicity transcends time and place. He is the epitome of first-person POV, surrounded by subtext which packs a thoughtfully aimed punch.
From a man who knew what he was writing about, ‘One Moonlit Night’ (‘Un Nos Ola Leuad’) is a fine example of storytelling.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
I participated in Wales Readathon and #dewithon20 group reading of this novel.
My thanks to Paula Bardell-Hedley for her super efforts in creating this event 1st to 31st March 2020.
PRICHARD, CARADOG (1904-1980) journalist, novelist and poet from Wales UK.
I can recommend the author biography by Menna Baines on National Library of Wales website. Apart from a detailed look at Prichard, it contains photos of the author at home with his dog.
Menna Baines documented his life’s work, and at one point says ‘He published a collection of short stories, Y Genod yn ein Bywyd (‘The Girls in Our Life’ 1964); being heavily autobiographical, they cast some interesting light on his life but have little literary value.’ Ouch!