Most helpful positive review
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A well written novel - but lacks wow
on 28 April 2008
The Welsh Girl is an odd compendium of different stories. Firstly, we have the intriguingly named Rotheram, a German émigré who is working for the British army in 1944, trying to work out whether Rudolph Hess is fit to be tried.
Then we have the story of Esther Williams, the Welsh Girl of the title, as she adapts to the arrival of evacuees and her own little bundle of joy, whilst she deals with the loss of her mother and various friends.
And then there is the story of Karsten, a German prisoner of war.
The three stories overlap only tangentially, due to collocation in a Welsh speaking village. They have common themes, though, in exploring concepts of loss, shame, guilt, nationalist patriotism, freedom and, perhaps, hope. The stories are competently told - although there does seem to be some needless fuzziness over whether and when Karsten learns Esther's name. They have some complexity but are told in perfectly lucid fashion. The language feels plain, but probably isn't.
The characterization is strong. The key characters have depths of feeling and insecurity that are graphically communicated. This depth of character extends even to careful, albeit brief, depiction of some of the bit part players: Jack the barman, Jim the evacuee; the Major; Hess and all. The imagery of the Welsh countryside is also strong, with the fields and the slate mine adding a contrast of textures.
In terms of style, there is a good balance between the serious themes and the humour provided by Harry and Mary, a couple of radio entertainers who are broadcasting from the relative safety of Wales. This is welcome relief in what might, otherwise, be a rather intense work. There are also some metaphors that would probably dazzle if one thought about them for long enough - the instinct of sheep to remain within their territory is perhaps laid on a bit too thick, but is effective nonetheless.
But the Achilles heel of the novel is that it feels a little too clinical. Like the stylized travel poster cover, the novel feels just a bit sterile. There isn't quite enough emotion to draw the reader into any of the characters and the direction of the story lines is rather predictable. The reader has a role of impartial observer rather than feeling involved in the process. The final epilogue is too long and would have detracted from any emotional crescendo at the end of the final chapter - had there really been a crescendo.
The Welsh Girl is a well written novel of substance, but it does seem to lack the wow factor that could have made it a great.