Updated: Apr 28
*For Welsh review, see language toggle switch on top of page*
A novel set during the hard winter of 1981, a period when house prices were rising and young people in rural Wales could not buy homes in their localities.
Reading age: 10+
Interest age: 9-16+ (adults will also enjoy)
Genre: #fiction #Nationalism #Welsh #History
I can’t think of a book that made me think so many different and often conflicting emotions as Haf Llewelyn’s new novel, Ga i fyw adra? As a (fairly) young person myself, who’ll soon be on the hunt for a house, the subject matter is close to my heart and I was literally shouting to myself at some points whilst reading, moving between sighs of relief and bouts of indignation the next.
As suggested by the title, the book refers to a burning issue (no pun intended!) that is extremely important here in Wales currently, and although the novel is set in 1981, it’s fiercely relevant to us today.
Dafydd and Llinos, like many young couples, are keen to live in their local area, in Dafydd's Nain’s former home, Ty'n Drain. With her having to move into an elderly home due to declining health, the old lady is keen to pass on the reins on to the young couple. Unfortunately, Dafydd's greedy uncle has different ideas for the cottage as he realizes there’s money to be made by selling it on the open market as a potential holiday home – something that would go against Nain's wishes.
Unfortunately, this is a situation that is all too familiar across our communities. In this case, it’s enough to create a large rift in the family, as some start to argue and others are caught in the middle trying to keep the peace. The frustration and disappointment of the young couple is evident, and as the tension between the characters increases throughout the novel, the situation reaches boiling point!
Several storytelling strands come together in the novel, and the author was adept at showing the 'kaleidoscopic variety' of views on the issue, and that’s just within one family! Each member of the family, and indeed the community, is affected by the issue in different ways, which is something I hadn’t considered before. We also get a glimpse of life during the times when the Meibion Glyndŵr movement was active in the area. The ‘Meibion’, [Sons of Glyndŵr] if you don’t know, were a secretive group of ultra- Nationalist individuals who were wholly opposed to the growing number of second homes in Wales. As the Police get more and more desperate to find those responsible for the burning of holiday homes, everyone becomes a suspect and fingers start to be pointed…
The fox was a recurring theme throughout the book, with a number of references to R. Williams Parry's famous poem. Much like the Meibion, who operate silently in the shadows, the image of the fox is very suitable here.
Whilst reading, I sympathized greatly with Dafydd and Llinos, who just wanted to live and raise a family where they grew up, and that the opportunity was so tantalizingly close yet so far away from their grasp. The young couple's dilemma raises a big question - do we have a fundamental right to live at home in our cynefin?
We’ve come a long way since the days of burning buildings to make a political point, and quite possibly it’s through meaningful and open dialogue with those in power that brings about real change. It’s very encouraging that peaceful campaigns such as ‘Hawl i Fyw Adra’ have opened a dialogue with the Welsh Government on how to go about solving the problem. Having said that, achieving real change will be a long process, which is of little comfort to those needing a house now. In the meantime, then, the question of 'can I live at home?’ remains…
A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Books Council of Wales.