The National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth seems a quiet bastion of academic research, but in Fflur Dafydd’s new novel it becomes a hotbed seething with revolutionary intrigue.
The novel is set in 2020, and charts the dramatic events of one day in the life of the library. No ordinary day by any means. The twins, Ana and Nan (whose palindromic names have a significance to the theme of the novel), are the daughters of the well-known feminist writer, Elena Wdig, who committed suicide because of a damning review of her prize-winning novel by Eben Morgan. Ana and Nan are on the staff of the library, and seem outwardly mild and innocuous enough. Yet it is they who turn the normally serene atmosphere of their venerable institution topsy-turvy.
On the surface, the novel is one of adventure and intrigue, with a sinister plot. It can be read as a racy whodunit, which reaches a climax to take the reader’s breath away. Words and terms such as ‘surreal’, ‘magic realism’, ‘bizarre’, ‘fantasy’ and the ubiquitous ‘clever’ have been applied in a mixture of praise and condemnation by literary critics and reviewers.
Y Llyfrgell tells a story, and tells it very well indeed, but there is to it so much more than a mere story. It is multi-layered, and gives the wide-awake reader much food for thought and discussion. It has to do with the death of the book in a digital age, with feminism and political correctness, with the relationship between pure literature and literary criticism, with memory in all its aspects, and much more. Yet it does all this by means of a story which captivates the imagination of the least academic of readers.
'It's a wild, exhilarating read. Dafydd controls her troupe of players without once dipping into farce.'