I first read this story many years ago and never forgot about it so recently I read it again, and again it seemed terrific. It is written from the point of view of a very young Dylan, perhaps ten years old. He is spending time with his aunt and uncle in rural Wales, and his best friend from school, Jack, is coming to visit. Jack’s people are well off and he is expected to arrive, accompanied by his mother, in a Daimler. Dylan’s aunt has been holding on to a tin of peaches for a special occasion and is now looking forward to serving them, with a dollop of cream, to Jack’s mother.
And all around this situation is built a whole world of characters:
” . . . a thin, bald, pale old man, with his cheeks in his mouth . . . “
” . . . a sour woman with a flowered blouse and a man’s cap.”
There is not a wasted word in the story of this small boy with his fears and fancies; it draws you in, subsuming you almost, until you are living on that farm, playing in that farmyard:
“On my haunches, eager and alone, casting an ebony shadow, with the Gorsehill jungle swarming, the violent, impossible birds and fishes leaping, hidden under four-stemmed flowers the height of horses . . . my friend Jack Williams invisibly near me, I felt all my young body like an excited animal surrounding me, the torn knees bent, the bumping heart . . . the sweat prickling in the hands, the tunnels down to the eardrums, the little balls of dirt between my toes . . . “
The young Dylan imagines his uncle:
“I could see uncle, tall and sly and red, holding the writhing pig in his two hairy hands, sinking his teeth into its thigh . . . leaning over the wall of the sty with the pig’s legs sticking out of his mouth.”
And about his his aunt he writes:
“She went upstairs to dress like Sunday.”
In this tale the writing is the thing. It is hardly like reading at all; it’s like someone sitting beside you telling the story, the language rich and sumptuous and deep and luscious, full of adverbs and adjectives:
” . . . for his uncle to light his pipe and set the darkness on fire and show his long, red, drunken fox’s face to me, with its bristling side-brushes and wet, sensitive nose.”
It makes today’s pared-down prose appear without smell or taste or colour, and it reminds me of “A Christmas Carol”, especially the middle part, about Christmas Present. I found it very difficult to choose which quotes to include in this short commentary – every line is memorable.