Review: Lloerig by Geraint Lewis
Sexploitation and grief are two words that perhaps describe the principal themes of Geraint Lewis’ latest novel. So not the usual stuff of the Welsh language novel. It’s an absorbing and skilfully assembled work that came second in the prose medal competition at the National Eisteddfod and has now been deservedly published – a work of quiet and insistent absorption, taking the reader into its world completely.
The story is redacted by middle-aged Mari, mother of sixteen year old Kevin who has taken his own life in the garden of his parents’ bed and breakfast as a consequence of being blackmailed after he’s been secretly filmed in a state of arousal in front of his computer.
To compound Mari’s bleak misery Kevin was about to receive his excellent exam results: indeed he had everything going for him before a faceless extortionist in the Philippines threatened to release images of him unless he handed over a lot of money.
The story is told pretty much as a single sentence, a bright, flowing stream of consciousness which reminds one of Lucy Ellmann’s recent novel Ducks, Newburyport which similarly has a middle-aged woman itemizing her life, listing its travails and joys in a long, long ticker tape of sentences.
Unlike the Ohio housewife at the heart of Ellmann’s book, Mari’s account of the world around her is a bit more faltering, even if they both have it in for Donald Trump. As Mari spools through both recent events and Kevin’s progress through the world there are words she can’t bring herself to say.
She is ultimately given strength by her Christian conviction – she is a diligent chapel-goer – to help her deal with things, and to finally utter the dread words concerning her son’s death, not to mention a simple four letter word that can really help…being the word “sorry.”
But this is not a depressing work of fiction, far from it. It’s shot through with gentle, telling reminscences as Mari makes a cake or a cup of tea whilst reconstructing her darling boy’s life. In so doing she assembles not only a vivid portrait of him but also an account of the extended family, too.
Mari goes right back to Kevin’s birth and to his being named after the Liverpool striker who delighted Anfield crowds during the John Toshack era. There’s her husband Martin, still a Liverpool fan and a trained paramedic who ironically finds his son’s body but is too late to save him. Not to mention a Welsh grandfather straight out of central casting.
But central to all of this is Mari’s quest for understanding, especially as the formal inquest into Kevin’s death looms large. As she talks about him with his friends or his girlfriend, or forensically explores his bedroom she finds out that there’s a great deal she doesn’t know about her only son.
There’s his interest in online porn and rope and bondage and then some typical teenage experiments with drugs. But she hopes that by understanding his life better she can begin to properly fathom his death, with its attendant depths of despair for those he leaves behind. In the process she discovers that there isn’t a word for a parent who has lost a child, so awful is the experience as well as coming to some understanding of the pernicious aspects of the internet and social networking.
As readers of Geraint Lewis’ recent collection of lockdown stories Cofiwch Olchi Dwylo will well know he is an astute observer of the times, so the book is peppered with telling and knowledgeable references to football, capitalism, the songs of Datblygu, Gruff Rhys and Super Furry Animals, the Brexit vote and its consequences, the growth of the Welsh independence movement, not to mention the moon in all its phases.
If you choose it’s a novel which can be read in a single sitting, the lovely, lilting voice of Mari carrying you with it, flowing like the river Teifi which her son loved with all heart.
And when you finish it might well be the little details that remain in the mind – the ways in which Mari collects tiny things to help her be reminded of Kevin, in so doing turning his bedroom into a museum, just as the passageway to their home becomes a sort of instant shrine to him.
It’s a book about loss, yes, and incredible, chasmic loss at that, but it is also about stoicism and fortitude and how love and time can help mitigate both absence and pain.
All that and more in 150 pages which amply display Lewis’ short story writer’s skills and sense of concision being brought to the fore, thus ensuring this slim but quietly bountiful book is quite the achievement.
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