A few shared thoughts on chapters 5-8 and other aspects of the novel
“It was Lisa Top House’s fox fur that attracted our attention […]. We could see its head laughing at us from her shoulders with its black eyes shining like stars.”
This 37-page segment is a pungent concoction of humour, tragedy, joy and mystery. For instance, in chapter 5, the boy recalls the time he fell sick on Good Friday after discussing the crucifixion of Jesus with his best friends Huw and Moi. He is discovered sleeping on a gravestone and wakes some hours later in his Mam’s bed, having suffered a headache he likens to someone “knocking nails into it”. After eating homemade hot-cross buns he is reinvigorated and walks up “the Hill”, where he meets the tall, blue-eyed Humphrey, newly returned “from the sea”, who gives the boy gifts (including a ten-shilling note for his Mam) and shows him tricks, before inviting him and his mother to join them (Humphry and his wife Lisa, that is) for Sunday afternoon tea. As they depart, the boy declares him “the kindest man in the world”.
“Look, the moon’s in the River down there exactly like a wheel of fire. Maybe that’s what Will Starch Collar saw when he was drunk.”
We attend Church with the boy in chapter 6. He and Huw sing in the choir and relish what we would nowadays call ‘people-watching’, while also peeping through fingers at the lovely Ceri. They particularly enjoy Communion mornings, observing worshippers “coming up in a long line to kneel before the Altar, and seeing who was there and who wasn’t.” They have to “watch what [they] are doing”, though, as “Frank Bee Hive’s dad on the organ [can see them] through the mirror near his head”, but they are nevertheless able to “do lots of things under [their] surplices” (such as painfully pinching each other’s legs) without raising suspicion.
A little later the two boys visit Moi in his home, who in the previous chapter was said to have a cold. They find him in bed because his “Mam won’t let [him] up” until the “Doctor’s been”. He seems cheerful and chatty enough but shocks his friends by coughing up blood after “laughing his head off” at a story of Huw’s. Moi makes light of this, but we subsequently discover he is suffering from TB. His funeral is described in the next chapter.
In chapter 7, we are introduced to Johnny Beer Barrel’s cousin, Johnny South – so named because he is a South Walian who “talks funny”. He has opened a “boxing booth behind The Blue Bell” and is teaching others to fight “for a shilling a week.” We are regaled with an amusing anecdote about the occasion when local toughie, Owen Gorlan takes on “the Southerner” in the ring and is left “like a flatfish on the floor”.
As ever in these early stories, the boy returns home to his Mam at the end of the day. She takes in washing to earn a few extra pennies, so he generally finds her ironing late into the night. He watches her work for a while, regaling her with his latest exploits and divulging local gossip. She listens to his tales, commenting occasionally, sometimes dispensing advice, now and then even laughing at the things he says. Then she sends him to bed so she might continue her task in peace.
“I am the Queen of Snowdon, the Bride of the Beautiful One. I lie upon the bed of my ascension, eternally expectant, forever great with child and awaiting the hour of his delivery.”
Finally, we come to the highly perplexing chapter 8, which materialises as unexpectedly as if the Lady of the Lake had emerged from the still waters of Llyn Ogwen bearing Excalibur. Quite abruptly, the relatively rational thread of the book, which until this point has been provided by its narrative structure, is interrupted by something Jan Morris describes as “mysteriously vatic pronouncements of no explicable origin, as though some deus ex machina has intervened.”
This peculiar interlude, delivered in florid language, is somewhat disconcerting because it is so unlike previous or subsequent chapters and seems to belong in a different book. “Is this the voice, I wonder?” asks the boy. “Or is it just the wind blowing through Adwy’r Nant?” We are never told.
About the Author
Caradog Prichard (1904-1980) made his name in Wales as one of the writers of the Caernarfonshire quarrying district. Born and raised Bethesda, a tiny town and community on the River Ogwen, he spent his career as a journalist, eventually moving to London and becoming a sub-editor on the foreign desk at the Daily Telegraph. During this period, he penned four award-winning odes in addition to this remarkable novel. He remained in the English capital for the rest of his life.
“Whenever anyone from the south came to the Village, everyone would look at them in the street as though they had horns growing out of their head, and laugh at the way they spoke cos their South Walian Welsh was so funny.”
Please share your thoughts on chapters 5-8 of One Moonlit Night and join me next week to discuss chapters 9-11 (plus other aspects) of this novel.
This is my thirteen choice for The Classics Club
Categories: Reading Wales