In a Foreword, the author describes the background to this novel which is based on a relative who died in 1990. The Prose Medal competition at the 1991 National Eisteddfod offered the opportunity to pay homage to Bigw. Elin ap Hywel translated "Si Hei Lwli", into English and the novella was published in 2004 under the title "Twilight Song", with support from the Welsh Book Council.
Lisi, a ninety-year old now living out her final years in a Retirement Home, was given the nickname "pigog", meaning "spikey", by her nieces when they were children; one of these children was the mother of Eleni who narrates this novella together with Bigw.
Eleni, feeling rather guilty that she does not do more for her elderly relative, invites her out for a drive. Given the condition of her car, this might not have been the most sensible option. The journey offers a spine running through the book with both characters looking back on their lives, revealing tensions and frustrations. At the end, following Bigw's death and funeral, Eleni realises just how strong and determined Bigw was, and how Eleni herself will be able to capitalise on this knowledge in her own life.
The book deals very well with the difficulties of independence and growing old without a trace of sentimentality. Bigw looked after her father for a long time after her mother's death. After his death she lived on her own until illness and infirmity meant that she had to leave her home and live with Eleni and her parents. In due course she had to move again, into the retirement home which, unsurprisingly, she hates.
The backstories include that of Ellis, the one man in Bigw's life who might have offered her fulfilling companionship and her own family. However, Ellis dashes her hopes by cruelly telling her that he neither wants to be tied down nor to grow old. True to his wish he dies in a high-speed car crash. The light goes out of Bigw's life and she gains a reputation for her increasing truculence and difficulty.
The car journey, Bigw chooses to visit the cemetery since she has so few links remaining with the living, is described by each of the travellers and one of the most beautifully written sections describes how much Bigw wants to talk about her death and, in particular, about dying alone, "Being by herself was what worried her most. Maybe it was easier for married person? As she was lowered into the grave, would there be someone to greet her kindly, to make sure that everything was in order? Would there be someone to raise her up and grasp her hand to lead her to the Judgement Seat? Would she have to face it all by herself? She was so inept, so afraid of doing the wrong thing".
However, Eleni is determined to avoid this topic, "What on earth was there to say? I wasn't the right person to discuss such matters with her, I was too young. She should have found a doctor or minister to talk to. What help could I have been? The whole thing scared me". Of course, as many have found, after Bigw's death she regrets her behaviour, "A deep guilt weighs on my shoulders now".
it is impossible for a few sentences out of context to show the skill of the author and translator in building up, on the one hand, the raw experience of growing old, losing one's physical and mental faculties, and fearing death, and on the other, the belated realisation that death is also final for those left behind to grieve.
My knowledge of Welsh is insufficient to make any comment on the translation, except to say that it flows very well as befits the work of a poet. The Welsh and English versions are printed on facing pages and care has been taken with the printing so that it is relatively easy to relate the two.
The Welsh is the more mellifluous, of course, even when I made an effort to read it out loud. However, the translation will bring this novella to a wider readership and, hopefully, promote modern Welsh literature.