There’s a special sort of joy in reading a novel set in a landscape you love and know well. Better yet if the novel is beautifully written by an exciting new voice in literature. And Jane Fraser’s debut novel, published by Honno Press, is just that. Even if you don’t know the Gower before you begin Advent, you will by the time you finish it, seeing as Fraser uses the peninsular as another character, taking you through the seasons for this rural community at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.
‘…the sun is low, and out over the estuary the winter-blue sky is delineated from the blue-grey sky by the horizon that could have been drawn with a steel edge.’
Ellen is home from America after two years, called back by her family to help as William, her father, sinks further into alcoholism. The two years have left Ellen changed and she struggles to fit back into the close-knit welsh farming community. She has seen a bigger world, and can’t reconcile herself to the limitations placed on women’s lives back home. Her relationship with her mother, Eleanor, is by turns moving and tense – lives are hard and defined by historical expectations, even if the world elsewhere is changing quickly. Ellen is forced to confront all that she left behind when she set off for New Jersey, and it’s not easy to return home quietly.
Fraser is incredibly good about the detail, the shape and smell of things, making this such an easy novel to inhabit. Ellen’s room, the farmhouse kitchen, the landscape itself, all are vividly created. Fraser has an eye for the small gestures, the unspoken communications in families. I would love this novel even if I wasn’t feeling homesick for South Wales right now.