Was I just in London?
Was it Ireland before that?
Then there was Iceland and Venice and Kansas and brace yourselves because now it's Wales.
In fact, according to that brilliant Gavin and Stacey Islands in the Stream video with Tom Jones for Comic Relief, that'll be Wales in England then...duck everyone...and for anyone who might not know this, that little bit of flawed cartography will likely upset 99% of Wales and the other 1% are asleep and will be upset later.
In fact to make up for even referencing that, it might be WalesLit on and off for quite a while now that I have discovered the Honno Press list, and though today's book is not one of theirs I have a very alluring pile that are.
To add to any geographical confusion that other thing has happened, the one where you pick up and start three really good books which look poles apart and strike me down with a wet cod again if they don't all start speaking to each other.
What starts off as a singelton becomes a triplet reading experience, as similar themes and threads arc and spark across from one book to another and but for my trusty pencil and scribbles it would be easy to end up in a state of utter confusion.
The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan (Wales) quickly made connections in my mind with both The Tin-Kin by Eleanor Thom (Scotland) and Blackmoor by Edward Hogan (England) and in the end I had myself a sort of three-way reading experience with lines of communication opened up between them and flowing back and forth, as each book informed the other in the way they dealt with similar issues of family secrets, and tragedy. Lies and prevarication created a wall of silence around the unsayable, and in triplicate too, which all seemed to engender barely concealed and oft malevolent forces to be rooted out and exposed.
More of the other two books soon but The Earth Hums in B Flat published by Canongate gets the spotlight today as young Gwenni Morgan tries to make sense of her family and her life in small-town Wales in the 1950s.
Gwenni feels blessed by the gift of flight in her sleep, a gift which her family view more as a curse that will single her out as 'odd' rather than a childhood fantasy to be acknowledged. With a child's innocence and understanding Gwenni sees much that others may miss but likewise misinterprets what she sees too, taking things as children are wont to do at face value.
Gwenni's is a family rent asunder by the understated horrors of war and the stigma of mental illness with the aftermath passing from one generation to the next. Played out within the confines of a small and knowing community where gossip is the currency of division and hatred poor Gwenni has an uphill climb to the truth. Slowly, as the lies and secrets prevail, the book builds towards the revelations for Gwenni and her older sister Bethan which, though we as adults may have more or less gleaned, still retain the power to shock and silence as the full and ongoing implications dawn.
It's the characters who have lingered on in my mind, not only Gwenni but her long-suffering, loving and loyal father and the mother who hates her with a venom that it's hard to imagine, yet somehow, in the careful and sensitive hands of Mari Strachan, I came to understand it all as I turned the final page.
Mari Strachan has written a beautiful and I hate to tell you but unmissable book (sorry, the tbr piles must be teetering already and it's only March) especially if you enjoy a compelling and perfectly wrought child's narrative voice.