Each year, the Wales Literature Exchange Bookcase presents a new selection of recent literary fiction and poetry - this year's selection is typically eclectic.
Some titles focus on journeys: voyages of discovery, through the Antarctic in Banjo by Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch, or space in Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds. The hero of Konstantin by Tom Bullough may not travel so far, but as a fellow scientist, his dreams are as grand – and his obstacles: wolves, scarlet fever and icy rivers, are tests of courage as perilous as Scott or Shackleton's icebergs, the inhabited wastelands of Mars, or space itself. The travellers and migrants in Robert Minhinnick's The Keys of Babylon have different outcomes: some comfortable, others surviving on hopes and bitter memories, oppressed and threatened.
But one can find mortal dangers in the domestic: Blasu (The Taste of Milk and Honey) by Manon Steffan Ros is full of the joys of food, the lifelong comfort of cooking; but it also recalls neglect and starvation, the hidden ingredients that comfort serve to cover. Through the tempestuous night portrayed in Gwreiddyn Chwerw (A Bitter Root) by Jerry Hunter, the richness and symbolism of plant lore blends with Mari's memories to lend her strength to choose between life and death.
When challenged so fundamentally, is it any wonder that people look for something to cling to? The crews in Banjo's poems divert themselves from the cold with music and surreal games; for the elderly protagonist of Ras Olaf Harri Selwyn (Harri Selwyn's Last Race) by Tony Bianchi, running is everything, even if it hides the mortal truth in your bed. In Burying the Wren there is a reaching out to the small, solid things of this world, and a re-imagining of the self in the wake of bereavement. Christopher Meredith's new novel, The Book of Idiots, charts the mysteries of ordinary men's lives – fearful, funny and coming to an end.
In all, one sees the noble strangeness in people. This can stretch across the galaxy, as in Blue Remembered Earth, or turn the smallest moment - a thread of anxiety, a sudden change of heart, the psychological delicacy in Tessa Hadley's stories in Married Love - into a diamond of winking facets, flashing and disappearing, intimate but unknown.