O! Tyn y Gorchudd (The Life of Rebecca Jones; Gomer, 2002) tells the story of Rebecca Jones, born in 1905, who spent her life in the remote valley of Maesglasau in Montgomeryshire. Here her family dwelt and farmed for a thousand years, welcoming life's joys and negotiating its hardships. Rebecca's parents bore a cross heavier than most: of the seven children born of their union, three suffered blindness, and two, we are told, died young.
A chronicle of the twentieth century, and a story of dignity in the face of tragedy, O! Tyn y Gorchudd draws on the sense of place, of community, and of tradition which has long been central to Welsh-speaking Wales. It is a story of parental love and selflessness, and above all of the faith and resolve of the narrator's mother who 'came to accept [her son's] blindness with the boundless grace that had always characterised her' (48). The story has its roots in a tradition which has long provided insight into the lives of ordinary people in Wales.
The author, Angharad Price, like others before her - Daniel Owen, T. Rowland Hughes, Kate Roberts and Elena Puw Morgan - writes of her kith and kin with empathy and with intimacy. The book, however, is more than a classic biography. We learn at the end that the Rebecca Jones, whose life's story we have been reading, died a young girl in 1916: Angharad Price's book is a 'tribute to the life she [Rebecca] might have had'. In O! Tyn y Gorchudd, a talented young author has revisited a conventional genre and reinvigorated it. To do so required vision in an age when community and non-conformism - twin-bastions of the Welsh language - are crumbling. Little wonder that this ingenious 'posthumous autobiography' has been greeted with delight by the critics.
'Price's book achieves a rare feat indeed. A lovingly crafted account of Welsh-speaking rural life on the brink of dissolution or at least transformation, it serves both as a touching, tender document and as a thoroughly artful exercise in storytelling – one that, in methods and motifs, can claim a place on the shelf beside Berger, Sebald and Ondaatje. Widely hailed as the first Welsh classic of the 21st century, it now stands tall as a peak of modern British writing too.'
Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
'From Wales (and from Welsh) came a gem of a short novel – rooted in family history – about a self-sufficient rural way of life, as modernity encroaches with all its gifts and thefts: The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price (translated by Lloyd Jones; MacLehose, £10). The fictional voice Price gives to her great-aunt compels and captivates.'
Books of the Year 2012: Fiction, The Independent
O! Tyn y Gorchudd (The Life of Rebecca Jones)
Ffordd y Gogledd
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