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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars intelligent & accomplished novel
This novel alternates between two main narratives. In one, a young university lecturer returns to his Welsh border village to attend his dying father. In the other, set a couple of decades earlier, the railway signalman father marries & settles in the village amid events surrounding the 1926 general strike.
Raymond Williams was one of the most influential post war...
Published on 5 Oct. 2009 by HJ

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3.0 out of 5 stars A Novel of Character and Environment
Raymond Williams (1921-1988) was best known as an academic and literary critic, but he also wrote fiction, and “Border Country”, first published in 1960, was his first novel. Like many first novels it is in many ways autobiographical. The main character Matthew Price is, like Williams, a young man from a working-class background who has moved away from his...
Published 6 months ago by J C E Hitchcock


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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars intelligent & accomplished novel, 5 Oct. 2009
By 
HJ (London UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Border Country (Library of Wales) (Paperback)
This novel alternates between two main narratives. In one, a young university lecturer returns to his Welsh border village to attend his dying father. In the other, set a couple of decades earlier, the railway signalman father marries & settles in the village amid events surrounding the 1926 general strike.
Raymond Williams was one of the most influential post war literary critics. His brand of "cultural materialism" (looking at the complex relationship between culture and its socio-economic context) still informs university English departments & cultural studies today. But can academic theorists ever write decent novels? At first this novel seems likely to be predictably disappointing, a clichéd story of educated son becoming middle class & estranged from working class roots, written in a rather flat & worthy social (ist) realist style. But it's far more sophisticated than that. The split narrative structure quickly begins to create all kinds of interesting & unexpected juxtapositions of perspective for the reader. The characters & dialogue are well drawn and the storyline gradually becomes very engaging. Although the story is presumably autobiographical, Williams is completely undogmatic in his representation of the political positions of the characters -even in relation to the general strike. The novel is very moving but never sentimental about the strike or about the lives of the various characters. Perhaps the most notable thing is that Williams, through his detached & beautifully pared down style, manages to show how every character has an intelligent, profound inner life, even though many of the characters do not or cannot articulate their thoughts openly. Aside from its historical & regional significance, the novel deals with universal human experiences, developing some of the most convincing and thoughtful commentaries on the processes of ageing and death I've ever read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my top five books, 3 Aug. 2011
By 
K. E. Martin "Kevin Martin" (West Yorkshire UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Border Country (Library of Wales) (Paperback)
As others have said, this book that I read ten years ago still haunts me. It is not just the historical sociological relevance of its content it is more the vivid honest descriptions of the lives lived in mid wales. I still feel the power and love of his father, his work followed by his vegatable gardening and heart disease death. The jam manufacturer who buys in pulp in the end well perhaps it is a sociological passing but the book stays with me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing., 23 Feb. 2013
Heart warming book. A little slow at the beginning but picks up quickly. Sad but happy at he same time. Delightful!
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Novel of Character and Environment, 17 Jan. 2015
By 
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Border Country (Library of Wales) (Paperback)
Raymond Williams (1921-1988) was best known as an academic and literary critic, but he also wrote fiction, and “Border Country”, first published in 1960, was his first novel. Like many first novels it is in many ways autobiographical. The main character Matthew Price is, like Williams, a young man from a working-class background who has moved away from his home in the (fictitious) South Wales village of Glynmawr to become an academic in England. The main action, probably set during the 1950s, describes Matthew’s return to visit his sick father Harry, a railway signalman, but there are also lengthy flashbacks to Matthew’s childhood and youth the in 1920s and 1930s; the General Strike of 1926 plays an important part in the story.

The “border country” of the title is the area of rural Monmouthshire, close to the border between Wales and England, where Williams himself grew up. Indeed, in 1960 this area was even more of a “border country” than it is today, as by a curious legal anomaly, not resolved until 1974, Monmouthshire was legally an English county but treated for some purposes as being part of Wales. Despite this anomaly, and the fact that the great majority of the population speak English as their mother tongue, the area is firmly Welsh in its culture and national identity. Geographically, the area is quite close to the South Wales mining valleys, but its social make-up is very different. In the valleys nearly everyone identifies with the industrial, unionised working class. In rural Monmouthshire most people are farmers, and the railway workers like Harry Price form a small group of their own, set apart from a largely apolitical community by their commitment to socialism and trade unionism.

Harry’s friend Morgan Rosser is another important character in the novel. At the time of the Strike he is a union organiser, politically radical and enthusiastic in his support for the miners whose dispute with their employers has led to workers in other industries coming out in support. Later, however, Morgan goes into business on his own account, eventually becoming a successful capitalist. Although Harry never publicly criticises his old friend, he always refuses Morgan’s invitations to join him in the business, and it seems clear that in private he disapproves of what he sees as Morgan turning his back on the working class. There are hints of a previous romance between Matthew and Morgan’s daughter Eira, but not much is made of this.

Matthew can also be seen as having turned his back on his class and community. Although his father never criticises his son, any more than he criticises his friend, there appears to be a certain distance between them in the early part of the novel, and it is notable that Matthew’s wife Susan and their sons do not accompany him on his journeys to Wales, hinting at a possible rift in the family. As the story progresses, however, father and son grow closer, drawn by shared memories of the past.

That “border” in the title has a wider significance than the administrative boundary between England and Wales. It also represents the boundary between Matthew’s two lives, his original life as a working-class Welsh boy and his current comfortable, middle-class life as a lecturer in economic history at London University. Susan and their children belong to one side of his life, his parents and his old friends to the other. It is significant that he is known by different names on either side of the border, symbolic of his two different identities. In London he goes by his official baptismal names, Matthew Henry. In Glynmawr he is known to friends and family as Will, a childhood nickname.

The novel was written during the heyday of the so-called “kitchen sink” school of social-realist writing when other novelists such as Alan Sillitoe, Stan Barstow and John Braine were also starting to explore working-class life in their fiction. As Dai Jones points out in his introduction, it is written in a matter-of-fact prose style, with an emphasis on descriptions of the physical world and little in the way of metaphor or imagery. To borrow a phrase of Thomas Hardy’s, it is a “novel of character end environment”, although unlike most of the novels which Hardy so designated it contains little in the way of dramatic action. Rather, it is the development of character itself, and the way in which that development is influenced by environment, which forms the action of the novel. Although Williams was a Marxist in his political sympathies, there is little revolutionary or experimental about his writing; this novel is very traditional both in terms of its form and of its style. Nevertheless, his emphasis on the material does perhaps reveal the influence of Marxist philosophy.

My main criticisms of the book would be that it is perhaps rather lengthier than it needs to be and at times too slow-moving. Williams does, however, have some interesting things to say about a range of interconnected themes, including Welsh national identity, social class, migration, father/son relationships and the “generation gap”.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An intimate account of local culture, 9 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Border country: A novel
This was Raymond Williams' first novel and - in keeping with the common advice to new writers - appears to draw on the familiar feelings, experiences and history. It brought to mind Melvyn Bragg's The Soldier's Return/Crossing the Tracks in its sensitive evocation of a particular time and place (although these authors celebrate different times and places) and the dislocations and continuities that are woven into the lives of 'scholarship boys' as they moved geographically and socially into middle-class careers. While the book contains a range of engaging actors, Border Country relies heavily on the characters and relationships of a father and son - in particular on the dynamics of coming to terms with their differences. I found it convincing.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Deep nostalgia, 16 Jun. 2013
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Very similar to my life as a boy in Wales who was the son of a railwayman (signalman) and went off to University in the 1950s. The language of the border country was difficult to interpret and a lot of nuance was lost to me. It gave a great feeling for the time and place which has changed so muchin the last 50 years.Perhaps a Welsh language version would satisfy my critisism?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, 2 Aug. 2013
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With a Welsh grandfather, this was a little dig into life as it was in his time there. Slow paced, as was life then, the detail and language was spot on but I did feel my prior knowledge of Welsh dialogue and idiom aided my appreciation of it. Subtle and thought provoking plot.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended - slow literature - and that's a compliment, 5 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: Border Country (Library of Wales) (Paperback)
Not for everyone but after a slow start this moody sparse atmospheric plain but deceptively deep book weaves its magic like a beautiful damp misty morning in the valleys. One that may stay with the reader long after reading.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hiraeth, 19 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Border Country (Library of Wales) (Paperback)
The book has been in my consciousness for the last 30 years and is something I have always wanted to read. The Library of Wales reprint in 2006 came at exactly the right time; as a 40 something London exile nothing has explained my mental state quite like Border Country. It's difficult for me to detach myself from the book and recommend it, but what the hell.
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4.0 out of 5 stars this is a good account of how things used to be., 28 Jun. 2013
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The style and content of this story are well written. It gives a good account of how things used to be in the poorer working class areas of the country.
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Border Country (Library of Wales)
Border Country (Library of Wales) by Raymond Williams (Paperback - 23 Dec. 2005)
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