Saturday, 22 May 2010

Still Angry After All These Years

John Wain’s Charlie Lumley in Hurry On Down, an unemployable private detective cum window cleaner with Jehovah’s Witness leanings spends all his time in the pub. Stan Barstow’s Vic Brown in A Kind of Loving followed a beer-loving dance hall existence to get himself through the gritty day. “Jimmy tells me they’re all going out to the Lord Nelson, that’s a pub on the way to Bradford, for a booze-up….it’ll be a kitty do with everyone chucking ten bob in at the beginning of the evening and drinking until it’s gone.” Kingsley Amis’s Jim Dixon suffered from roaring hangovers. “His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.” That’s from Lucky Jim.

These were the Angry Young Men (and they were all men), the realists of the late fifties and early sixties, the British Beat generation. Beatniks without the hitch-hiking, the visions and the be-bop. Trad jazz revolutionaries. Looking back we might laugh but they set a style.

In a sense a lot of contemporary Welsh writing in English is following their path. Rachel Trezise’s award winning valley-set street level fiction may have different heroes, and ones who use drugs rather than beer, but the working-class dialogue-rich approach to story-telling is the same. “Wait ‘til ewe try iss stuff man, he’s saying, trying to keep his half-made joint under the lip…..” (Fresh Apples).

Similar territory is traversed in the work of John Williams, Sean Burke, Matthew David Scott, Suzie Wild, and Catrin Dafydd. The new generation no longer follows grand ideas. It does not chase revolution of any kind. Our world of overconsumption, inequality and political machination is skirted in favour of a coming to terms with what can be seen through the window.

Our new writers offer mirrors to the world they actually live in. This world, the Welsh world, the one turning through the streets of Cardiff and flowing over the mountains above Llanystumdwy. Understand that and you’ll know the universe.

John Updike, Richard Ford and Don DeLilo have spent life-times creating a fiction that reflects the every-changing America into which they were born. Ford’s sportswriter, Frank Bascombe, and John Updike’s rabbit, Harry Angstrom, are among the greatest characters of twentieth century fiction. For the twenty-first they need new faces. Des Barry, John Williams and Rachel Tresize are hard at work fashioning replacements.

Meanwhile A Kind of Loving turns 50. Pontardawe resident Stan Barstow’s masterpiece will be celebrated on BBC radio this summer. Serialisation and a feature on Woman’s Hour. And a reprint of the great work will come from Parthian.

A version of this post appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday, 22nd May, 2010

1 comment:

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