The Welsh Girl

by Peter Ho Davies

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Featured image for The Welsh Girl

This was a great book that I raced through and couldn’t put down. I’ve read about a hundred good reviews of it and no one seems to have a bad word to say about it - at this point I would be disappointed if it doesn’t at least make the shortlist. It’s the third book I’ve read from this year’s longlist, and so far it’s my favourite.

The setting is the end of the second world war, the location is a small remote village in Wales and the central character is really Esther, the Welsh girl of the title. Esther’s holding the small family farm together, looking after her father and a wayward Liverpudlian evacuee, and being romanced by an English soldier. A lot of the narrative takes place in the mind of a German prisoner of war held nearby.

There is also a second story in the book involving Rudolf Hess and one of his interrogators who seem to be in Wales at the same time. There’s not much in this book that you could call weak, but I did find myself wondering why the book had started with this story and then moved away to the story centred on Esther. The first story does become relevant and the ending ties together very nicely, but I did feel that this thread of the book was left hanging in the air for a long time. That was pretty much the only negative thing I can think of to say though.

This is also a first novel (Ho Davies has published short story collections before) and on the basis of how well written and enjoyable it was I’m very much hoping he can keep up the quality and provide me with great books for years to come. If I were the Booker Prize committee I’d worry about what happens if he gets given the Booker at the first attempt and then proceeds to produce fabulous novels over the next few decades. Good problem to have I guess!