Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review: Green Green My Valley Now

Title: Green Green My Valley Now

Author: Richard Llewellyn

Date: 1975

Publisher: Doubleday

ISBN: 0-385-03374-5

Length: 236 pages

Quote: “I suppose if something big is to be felt when you leave a place you love, then something bigger it should be when you go back.”

Huw Morgan, narrator of the earlier novel How Green Was My Valley, had left his home in Wales and gone to Argentina at the end of that book. Now he’s back in Wales to report on the “modernization” of his home town.

Many geologists believe that all of the currently inhabited continents were once a single land mass, which they hypothetically call Pangaea. Among the evidence that supports this theory is a physical and geological similarity between southern Britain and northeastern North America. According to the bedrock, Wales may once have lain just northeast of Nova Scotia. The landscapes of Huw’s beloved Valley, which fill him with “a drift of wonder beyond words,” look like the Appalachian Mountains; both may once have been part of a single land mass.

The damage the coal industry has done is, predictably, similar. “[W]here the other mountain once was, behind our house, is only plain sky…the pit has gone these years, with our house and all the other houses on the hill, flattened and buried under the slag.”

The language and culture are, of course, different. “[O]ur women worked in the pits long, long before, and good as any man, and earning with the best…and they left the pits only when oil began to take coal’s place…Awful years, those were, my mother said.”

Huw’s story is fiction, and his own, although it takes place in some (not all) of the places where Llewellyn had lived. In between How Green Was My Valley two other novels, Up into the Singing Mountain and  Down Where the Moon Is Small, described Huw’s fictional life in Argentina, his first marriage, widowhood, remarriage and so on. He returns to Wales with his second wife, Sus, “an Indio of Indios.”

If peace-loving, church-going Huw is disappointed by the decrease in church attendance, the number of little local “chapels” that have been rededicated to secular use,  he’s really dismayed by the violent “revolutionary” activities going on in the early 1970s in Europe. He’s shocked by the unchristian behavior of the people, many of whom aren’t even Welsh, that he meets in this section of his life. Among other things he retires, disturbed, from the company of two lesbians. He’s widowed again, in the course of this story, and he remarries again. In order to preserve some suspense for anyone interested in reading a story that’s mostly about an older man’s discomfort with the behavior of the young (the generation who are now “older”), this review won’t mention whom he remarries. There are a lot of women in the story and Huw is so consistently polite, discreet, oldfashioned, Protestant, or whatever, that readers won’t be sure which, if any, of them to regard as “a love interest” for several chapters in the middle of the book.

Huw’s character keeps the tone of this book discreet, but there’s no lack of sex and violence in this book; it’s merely less graphic than was fashionable in 1975. It is, in fact, more of a chronicle than a novel. The central question raised by the plot is whether Huw still wants to live in the Valley and, despite his conservative personality, there’s not a great deal of suspense about that.

The copy of Green Green My Valley Now that I physically own is in poor condition, and is cheap. Otherwise, prices for all three sequels to How Green Was My Valley are in the collectors' range, but as of today this web site can still offer copies of Green Green My Valley Now for $5 per book + $5 per package. (How Green Was My Valley, which was a bestseller and became a movie, is still cheap; the other two volumes are rare and more expensive--the set of four may well go over $100.) As always, the shipping charge applies to as many books as fit into the package and would cover all four volumes, or any other combination of books you choose to order.