Y Lôn Wen/The White Lane, By Kate Roberts trs Gillian Clarke

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The Independent Culture

A parallel translation in Welsh and English, this is a deeply felt, lyrical account of Kate Roberts' childhood in the virtually monoglot community that earned its living from the slate quarries of North Wales at the end of the 19th century. The English translation by the poet Gillian Clarke, with its litany of Welshisms, demands to be read in a Welsh accent.

The first chapter is by far the best: Roberts' bright, fragmentary memories of early infancy – haymaking, the funeral of a quarryman – have the intensity of poetry. Later chapters are more distanced; a sociological or historical description of a society rather than re-lived experience. It's still interesting to read about this closely knit world, and Roberts introduces us to some memorable characters, but the writing is less literary and less involving.

Roberts freely owns up to gaps in her memory, sometimes to anti-climactic effect. She begins an anecdote about an entertainer who brought a bear into school, then frustratingly curtails it with "I don't remember much about the performance."