In a year where many of us may have felt trapped – unable to work, go on holiday or even see family over Christmas – escape has been at the forefront of many of our minds. Furloughed, locked down and home-schooling, who hasn’t entertained dreams of getting away, of starting again, and of having new adventures
But what would happen if you actually did it?
This is the question at the heart of Llwyd Owen’s latest novel Rhedeg i Parys (‘Running to Parys’ – a play on the Anrhefn song Rhedeg i Paris). It is the story of a helter-skelter journey from Anglesey to Cardiff via Aberaeron and then back again, following a cast of characters that are all trying to escape from their situation, be it from overbearing parents, a dreary job or unhealthy relationships. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? Well, if you didn’t know already, in Owen’s world the worst can be very, very bad indeed.
Rhedeg i Parys is a story woven from two seemingly separate threads. The first is the story of Luned and Lee, two young lovers and soon-to-be-parents who escape from Amlwch, and Luned’s disapproving family, to start a new life together in Cardiff. All they have is each other, a small amount of money, a van, and Lee’s network of friends from his childhood in the capital city, but an inevitable series of unfortunate and tragic events lays waste to their plans.
As the dream turns to a nightmare and the pursuit of happiness turns to a struggle for survival, the pair are faced with the question of whether they plough on, or return to Luned’s family farm in the shadow of Parys Mountain with their tails between their legs.
The second thread follows PC Sally Morris, a dedicated and ambitious officer who we meet whilst in the throes of a graphic S&M session with the North Wales Police Commissioner. On the cusp of becoming a detective, an altercation with another officer forces Sally to put her career aspirations on hold, and she decides to return to Anglesey to visit her mother and evaluate her future. Whilst there, Sally is recruited by Luned’s mother to find her daughter and make sure she’s safe, a task which the detective in Sally is unable to refuse.
However, things are rarely that simple, and soon Sally is joined in her pursuit of Luned and Lee by local garage owner and gangster Billy Ray and his son, the musclebound Max. The trigger-happy duo are intent on hunting down and eliminating the young pair by any means necessary and soon an adrenaline-fuelled cross-country chase takes place, which leads to the novel’s denouement, deep within Parys Mountain itself.
Whilst Llwyd Owen’s ability to tell a tale holds the reader enthralled, it is the cast of colourful characters that truly brings this novel to life – Pierre the ganja-loving mechanic with three wives and Lee’s henpecked friend Mo were amongst my favourites, but I felt the standout character was the aforementioned Max. A strongman-cum-gangster who treats murder and torture as nothing more than an occupational hazard, the banter he shares with his father whilst on the hunt for Luned and Lee manages to be both funny and chilling at the same time – when Billy Ray refers to their trip as “father son bonding”, Max is quick to suggest it is “father son murderin’ more like”.
Rhedeg i Parys is a prime example of the work of one of Wales’ best-loved authors, who has a unique ability to reflect our society back at us through his own distorted fairground mirror. The story is funny, tragic and thrilling in equal measures, but if there is a lesson to be taken from this book, it would be this: the grass may well be greener on the other side, but the difficult part is getting there.
Rhedeg i Parys is published by Y Lolfa and can be bought here.