Support our Nation today - please donate here

Book review: The Geography of the Heart by Cath Barton

24 Feb 2024 3 minute read
The Geography of the Heart by Cath Barton is published by Arroyo Seco Press

Niall Griffiths

I like having this stuff, this tiny press material, around; I like the grassroots whiff of it, the sense of cottage industry.

It suggests the need to write simply for the sake of it, the joy of it; I imagine the intense scribbling at a kitchen table as the baby sleeps in the afternoon and the washing machine chugs away in the corner.

It is testament to a kind of laudable need. It is writing in its rawest state.


And the writing itself? Well, we’re in Abergavenny and being taken through some particles of that town’s life through a series of multi-voiced and interlinked vignettes (think Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, for example).

Megan Louise Pritchard is the ostensible protagonist, and a returner to the area following some years in London.

Her mother is terminally ill, which news she receives as she’s hiking on the Blorenge, which takes on the form, as the book progresses, of a giant madeleine (Proust would have needed a lake of coffee in which to dunk this particular sweetmeat).

She remembers when, as a child, The Beatles played in Y Fenni; this event too becomes a leitmotif.


Then we’re taken back to 1963. See Megan and her pals empinkening themselves for the gig.

Her dad, we discover, ‘did a bunk’ when Megan was 3 years old. See her friend Lili, who will leave Y Fenni for the Valleys when she will marry the ‘Italian Lothario’ Giuseppe in the 1980s.

And then we see a fragment through the eyes of Lili’s mother, Branwen, a friend of Megan’s mother Gwladys. And then we’re in the 3rd person, Gwladys a resident at a day centre, buffeted by dementia and attended by her daughter, whose POV we’re soon invited into again.


That’s how this collection works, through a kind of kaleidoscope effect; chronology, point of view, fragmentation and then cohesion.

There’s an Alan Bennett flavour to Branwen’s voice and a hint of Under Milkwood to the whole thing; if the writing is far less innovative and powerful than Thomas’s, it is assuredly not without its beauties: ‘I lay back on the dry bracken, closed my eyes, listened to the wind and the birdsong and felt that little bit closer to whatever heaven might be’.

And there is the ‘line of starlings…descend[ing] to their roost in an inky thumb-print’. And there’s the hidden humour of seemingly throw-away lines: ‘I wanted to tell her she had lipstick on her teeth, but it wasn’t true, and anyway it wouldn’t have helped’. That’s good stuff.

Town politics

This is, centrally, a sweet-hearted book, unsullied and clean. It’s formed of the everyday stuff of Y Fenni; the gossip, the interactions, the personal cataclysms in individual lives that have no impact whatsoever on the flanks of the Sugar Loaf that hulks over it all.

The internal politics of the women’s walking group. The food festival. This little book neither wants or tries to be anything other than what it is and that’s a beaded glass of iced lager on a scorching day. I like having that around me too.

Cath Barton’s novella-in-flash The Geography of the Heart is published by Arroyo Seco Press. It is not available in bookshops but you can get it here, or direct from the author here.

Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.