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3.4 out of 5 stars7
3.4 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 May 2015
The author’s fifth book is set in rural Wales and centres on Lydia, a writer, who is living in an isolated cottage, Ty Fach, whilst recovering from a failed relationship. In a weak moment she has invited an acquaintance, Betty [the kind of person ‘who would have liked to go round India on a bicycle in an orange robe looking for an Enlightened One.’], to accompany her.

The other characters are locals, a farmer, Hywel, his wife, Elizabeth, and brother, Beuno, who is studying for the church, Dr Wyn, Mr and Mrs Molesworth, a retired couple who have moved to the area and own the local gift shop, and their daughter, April. There is also Hywel’s and Elizabeth’s mentally-impaired daughter, Angharad, whose contribution to the book, as a disembodied entity, is presented in italics and which I could have done without. Although the list of characters is too close to that of a contemporary Brian Rix farce, the writing manages to liberate them from caricature.

The book’s title refers to the noises that Lydia repeatedly hears in the cottage and which may be imagined or the result of her heightened sensitivity to an insubstantial other world. The author’s strength lies in her ability to create characters that magnify human frailties but still engage the reader’s understanding.

Relationships, between Lydia and Betty, the doctor and Elizabeth [and anyone else female], Betty and Beuno, and Lydia and her ex-boyfriend, largely revealed through the former’s thoughts, lie at the heart of the book. The relationship between the two women changes as Lydia, who is an intensely difficult person to deal with [being ‘one of those women who find something contaminating in ugliness and prefer to mingle only with those who are at least as attractive as themselves.’] and is more bothered about the break-up of her recent relationship than she can admits to Betty or herself, comes to appreciate the care and empathy that her friend is offering. Several characters teeter on the edge of romance but the author refuses to take them down such an easy route and jealousies and ardent discussions about the role of the church and the nature of evil [Lydia refers to the Devil as ‘Stan’] in contemporary times ensue.

Another common element is dissatisfaction – the doctor would have liked to practice away from home but was too much under his mother’s thumb, Elizabeth is dissatisfied with her marriage and life, whilst Beuno is not satisfied with his teachers’ explanations of the role of the church. Lydia is dissatisfied with everyone, but especially herself.

The novella would be slight indeed, there is very little in the way of a formal plot, were it not for the author’s pointed observations, dialogue and witty insights into what Lydia is thinking. Many of the exchanges are between Betty and Lydia at Ty Bach but set pieces, including a dinner party, picnic, local agricultural fair and funeral, serve to broaden the perspective. Invited to a dinner party by Elizabeth, Lydia wears a scarlet silk dress that makes a statement to the horny doctor ‘This is my best frock. If you lay a finger on me, you little squirt, you’ll crease it, and if you do I’ll kill you.’ and to the self-important Mrs Molesworth ‘This frock is more chic and expensive than anything which you possess, and it makes you look a provincial old trollop in your mock Chanel suit.’

Published in 1985 it contains references to Angharad that now seem very dated but which, very likely, would have been uttered within an isolated valley environment.

On the final page, Lydia leaves in high spirits for London with little in her life resolved but planning that 'As soon as she got back to London she would give a party and have a good laugh'. Ellis leaves it to the reader to imagine what comes next. This is a short book that has many sentences that are worth re-reading and thinking about.
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on 13 October 2014
This is, without a doubt, a well written book, and by someone who is obviously intelligent and well read themselves. However, at the end of the book I was left with a feeling of "Right. And...?" There was absolutely no point to it, or if there was it had eluded me completely.
One of the main problems was that I found the characters totally unsympathetic. There was no one that I cared about or liked. The main character is brittle and self regarding. The other problem, as others have pointed out, is that nothing happens. You expect it to, and it just doesn't.
One could be clever and say "Ah, but that's what life is. Expecting something to happen and it never does" So why bother reading something exactly like life?
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on 23 June 2014
Out of ten people in our group only one person had anything positive to say about it.
It wasn't even a book that was so bad yet readable that we enjoyed pulling it to pieces.
The Q most of us asked was why? The characters were always at arms length. The most potentially interesting characters didn't get involved in the story telling, nothing happened, the climax has all the excitement of a damp squib.
I think the problem, which we didn't realise when chosing this book, is that it was originally published in 1985 and hasn't stood the test of time. In 1985 maybe it did have something to say and may well have been humourous and edgy, but today it just looks dated.
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on 16 October 2013
I was drawn to this book by the cover and the opening paragraph. While I liked the languid, meandering pace, I was surprised when I reached the end as I felt that nothing had really happened.
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on 2 December 2012
A very well written literary novel. I'd read it years ago and enjoyed it just as much this time. I shall almost certainly read it again.
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on 11 November 2012
A fanciful and gritty few days are covered in this story giving the reader a cameo of an age with tones of Dylan Thomas mixed with Saturday Night and Sunday morning.
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on 31 July 2013
No very excited and a bit confusion at times. There are lots of unusual phrases/words being used in the book.
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