The Welsh Sonata: Variations on a Theme

James Hanley

Andre Deutsch 1978 [1954]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
When Rhys the Wound, a tramp beloved by the children, goes missing from the Welsh village of Cilgyn, the searchers go out.
"And the day grew fast and the night came down.

Not found.

And the heavy men came down the hill and mountain and the light from their swinging lamps splashed upon the darkness like water.

And they were silent men. The last cries and the last shouts had shaken through the valley, and the echoes of some were yet confounding."

But local policeman Goronwy Jones is also a retired bard, who dreams of an Eisteddfod crown and is less interested in finding Rhys himself than in uncovering his life story. In three reports "written in his own time" he chronicles his search, which involves spending late nights in a nearby mining town. From various sources — the publican Huw Ellis, Mrs Parry, the aging schoolmaster Sir Flook, a child's journal — Goronwy reconstructs a hard childhood and a primal tale of two men who loved the one girl. In the end, however, his preoccupation threatens his career.

The Welsh Sonata offers unique characters, entrancing dialogue in dialect, a simple but powerful love story, and a dark but human vision of mountain, village, farm, and town in a Welsh mining district. Hanley's style is distinctive, with a texture and a pacing unlike anything else I have read. I recommend him to any lover of fine prose wanting to try something different — and I intend to read more myself.

June 2003

External links:
- buy from or
Related reviews:
- James Hanley - The Ocean
- books about Wales + Welsh history
- more fiction
%T The Welsh Sonata
%S Variations on a Theme
%A Hanley, James
%I Andre Deutsch
%D 1978 [1954]
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 023396973X
%P 206pp