The nameless protagonist of Niall Griffiths's novel is a sixteen-year old boy who has just left school. Liberated, he dances in the rain to celebrate being away from 'all them walls'. Barely literate, the boy's internal monologue is redolent with pagan myth, and richly evocative of the natural world around him. His mother, physically abused by her partner, has an eye like a smashed blackbird's egg: 'all blue and bulgey with bursted veins and reddy-yellow stuff everywhere and swollen'.
The boy, almost wild and a marginalized figure in his Welsh community, is dismissed as a 'freak' by the man he names 'NotDad'. Yet the alcoholic uncle, who invites his nephew to live with him at a remote farm, sees him as a shaman, who will serve his community in an important way. 'Drunkle' is grieving for his wife, who committed suicide after losing her livestock during the foot-and-mouth epidemic.
At the 'High Place' farm, the boy warms to the runt of the cat's litter. The smallest kitten, with 'angryness in its scrunched up face', is the one who dares to bite him. Later, his own similar fate will be fulfilled as he battles a brutal Goliath type figure in a violent and stunning climax.
The power of this short novel comes from the idiosyncratic voice of the central character. He feels life so intensely that at one point he states that 'there was a sad on me the size of a mountain'. For the boy, the emotions and voices of both humans and animals, as well as the fluidity of time itself, are all dizzyingly interconnected. All this is wonderfully undercut by more prosaic and contemporary references to Mars bars, flat Coke in the pub, and searches for the legendary Bala Lake monster on an internet webcam.
Niall Griffiths tackles momentous themes with his characteristic empathy for the underdog, whilst breathing life into the language of fiction. As well as ruffling feathers, he dares to break some bones of the English language before resetting them into something new and startling.
'The range of Griffiths' achievement is as exhilarating as the reach of his ambition.'
'Niall Griffiths is an actual literary star. He tackles grand themes in exceedingly low milieux, a dichotomy reflected in the formal daring of his writing, which mixes demonic demotic with angelic high style.'
The Daily Telegraph
Jonathan Cape (2007)
Rogers, Coleridge & White
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