Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Senses and sensibility: Aberystwyth Mon Amour

I'm glad I have a blog to discuss Aberystwyth Mon Amour because I could never talk about the book in person or on the phone. I'm unsure how to pronounce the name of the Welsh resort town that gives the novel its title. Nor am I much more confident with Myfanwy, Cantref-y-Gwaelod, Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn or Siani-i-Blojob and other names of people and places in the book, though I suspect the last is not pure Welsh.

Author Malcolm Pryce sets the story in Aberystwyth, a town on Wales' west coast for whose past glories he apparently has much affection. Yet the book also acknowledges, sadly perhaps, the need for Aberystwyth to update itself. In fact, it's possible, at least for a reader like me who knows nothing of Wales and its coast, to read the novel as an elegy to an old Aberystwyth of ice cream stands and whelk stalls and a final acceptance of a new one of cappuccino and biscotti.

But the book is a murder mystery and a thriller, and Pryce delights in deadpan humor and in words amusing for their own sake. He also excels, particularly in the novel's opening chapters, at creating a sense of place by appealing to the senses.

The mystery is the disappearance of a string of schoolboys and then of a dancer at Aberystwyth's notorious nightclub, the Moulin. Louie Knight, the private investigator whose office is furnished with old library furniture, takes the case and is soon immersed in a shady half-world of gangsters, secret societies, Welsh mythology and a plot that could destroy the town.

I suspect that reaching the book's final destination was more than half the fun for Pryce. Who would think otherwise with bits like:
"The grandeur was now sadly defaced by charmless municipal sign boards: Combinations and Corsetry; Two-Headed Calves and other Curios; Coelcanths."
and
"I rolled a six and a one, and set off on my journey around the board. How many other people, honeymooners and young families, had made the same journey as the rain swept in from the sea and pounded on the plywood roof of their shoebox on wheels? Families who had driven for two or three hours, stopping occasionally for puking children, to the world of gorse and marram grass, dunes and bingo and fish and chips."
and possibly my favorite:
"A gleam of comprehension appeared in the waters of her eyes and the mauve iris of her mouth opened like a sea anemone's vagina."
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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22 Comments:

Blogger Paul Brazill said...

Sounds a hoot!

May 27, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

Not having read the book (or been to Wales), the only thing I can offer is pronunciation.

Ab-er-ist-with (stress on the "ist") is how I've usually heard the town pronounced.

(I have a couple of acquaintances who work or went to university there, and have heard the place mentioned in the media occasionally.)

PS: Oddly enough, the word verification for this post is prayer. Something I don't know about Wales?

May 27, 2009  
Blogger Kate S. said...

You had already piqued my interest just with the title of this book in your previous post. It sounds like great fun. It doesn't seem to be readily available in Canada, but I'll add it to my list the next time I send away to the Book Depository for a stack of British books.

May 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Is it, Paul, though shot through with a strain of wistfulness. The book's most frequent word is probably "sadly," for example. When one might expect a character to break down, he or she will smile sadly instead. That takes some of the edge off. "Forlorn" and "forlorly" crop up often, too.

May 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Lauren. I didn't realize Aberystwyth was a university towm until I read up on it as I read the novel.

Perhaps your v-word is a warning against Welsh myth and legend, which figure in the book.

May 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It was great fun, Kate, and I expect others in the series will be similarlty fun. One is called "The Unbearable Lighness of Being in Aberystwyth." That's fun.

I don't know about the books' availability. I had not heard of Malcolm Pryce until a friend in Northern Ireland gave me a British copy of "Aberystwyth Mon Amour." I don't know where else Malcolm Pryce is published.

Incidentally, I have not seen "Hiroshima Mon Amour," but i think that modern classic plays with uncertainties of time and perspective. Pryce's book has just a bit of that, toward the end.

May 27, 2009  
OpenID maxine said...

I have read this book and know the town well. My mother was born there and her cousins and their families still live there. We spent family holidays there when I was a child. Lauren's pronounciation is correct.

I did like this book but felt it jumped the shark about two-thirds of the way through. And in common with Jasper Fforde, once I had read one I did not have any wish to read more. The invention and imagination is lovely (I loved the Aberystwyth alternative universe) but only up to a point.

May 27, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

A fine review, and once again, the comments are almost as interesting as the post itself. Easy access to knowledgeable people is certainly an extra bonus of blogging.

And my v-word is hints LOL

May 27, 2009  
OpenID bookwitch said...

You only need to ask. Someone here is bound to know. We're a clever lot.

May 27, 2009  
Anonymous cfr said...

Just been teaching someone Welsh pronunciation at the Hay Festival earlier - to the best of my ability, anyway. Lauren is spot on with Aberystwyth.

For the rest, bear in mimd that in Welsh a single 'f' is more like a 'v'. (The English 'f' would be 'ff' in Welsh and you'd need to make it very 'fluffy'). For the 'll' you need your tongue on the roof of your mouth, with its edge running alongside your upper teeth and you breathe out through the mouth. Sounds a bit like spitting while preventing the spit coming out. So:

Cantref-y-Gwaelod would be Cantrev-uh-Gw-eye-lod.
Llanfihangel-y-Ceuddyn would be Llan-vee-hang-ell-uh-Cry-thin.
Siani-i-Blowjob would be Shanee-ee-Blowjob.

Hope that helps!

May 27, 2009  
Anonymous cfr said...

P.S. translation on the last would, I believe, be Sian the Blowjob, where Sian is Welsh for Jane.

May 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment, Maxine. It transpires that there are more honrary Aberystwythians about than I suspected.

In my innocence, I did not realize that Pryce had created an alternative universe until close to the end of the book. (Well, I never thought that the Druids were real.) Rather, I thought he was poking affectionate, if exaggerated, fun at a faded beach resort. At various times, the book reminded me of Amarcord and Mr. Hulot's Holiday. What is the real Aberystwyth like?

If the book jumped the shark, Pryce smoothed over the excesses with the novel combination of wistfulness and wild imagination. If I have one complaint, in fact, it's that he used the word sadly too often. I'm eager to see what Pryce does with the Aberystwyth universe in the series' other books. And I wish Jasper Fforde would turn out his Nursery Crimes novels more quickly.

May 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, you're right about the comments. Welsh pronunciation is not as eccentric with respect to English as I had thought. For some reason, I thought the double l had a sound totally unrelate to l. These learned comments have lifted a good deal of the apprehension I might otherwise have felt if I ever have to ask directions in Wales.

May 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Miss Witch, the knowledge just kept on coming even after you left your comment.

May 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, cfr, though I have trouble imagining the spitting and anti-spitting required by the ll. I have a toothache, so I will refrain from attempting any unfamiliar sounds, at least until well after I return from the dentist's office tomorrow. Until the anaesthetic wears off, I suspect I'd do better with drooling sounds than with spitting ones.

May 28, 2009  
Anonymous may said...

This is the kind of word where, despite practicing at home, I'll get to the book store and mangle the name when asking the bookseller to help me find the book. Lucky the author's name is quite ordinary (That would be Pryce with a 'y.')

I wonder if books do less well when their titles are difficult to pronounce. Kind of like the film Shawshank Redemption doing badly at the box office (but stellar in DVD sales) because movie-ticket buyers supposedly found the name difficult to pronounce.

May 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had never heard that about The Shawshank Redemption. The movie abbreviated the title of the source short story, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." Now, that would have been a mouthful.

I wonder if the Welsh names are less difficult because more familiar to readers in other parts of the UK than to we in North America.

At the Partners & Crime event about which I posted last night, I wondered, as I had in the past, whether the unfamiliar and perhaps intimidating look of the names of Janwillem van de Wetering's protagonists (Grijpstra and de Gier) might have intimidated non-Dutch readers.

May 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have found the supposedly ordinary Pryce troublesome, repeatedly typing Price in searches and posts. I hope I've managed to catch myself in time every time.

May 28, 2009  
Anonymous May said...

While I was in grad school, our professors constantly lamented about how American readers don't read works in translation. Foreign places, foreign names...its apparently just too much. But, I've always wondered if that was really true. I mean, with the endless number of alternatives to reading that are available nowadays, for people who actually buy a book and read it...I am likely to give this category of people the benefit of the doubt.

May 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And part of the problem may be that such reading as Americans do is not that good. I picked up "The Da Vinci Code," and I did not have to get all the way through the first sentence to realize that, to put it gently, prose style does not matter to Dan Brown's readers.

I have never seen any statistics to back the suggestion that English-speaking readers read too little translated literature. But I have noticed from time to time crime novels that are translated into other languages before they make it into English. All three volumes of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Triology were available in French translation before the second volume was published in English, for example, and two of the novels had been translated into Dutch and Italian before the second was available in English. (I made a post some time ago about this.) Whether this represents a trend, I don't know.

May 30, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

I think Lauren knows much more about this than I do, but it seems that Scandinavian crime fiction is often translated into German before English.
Two of the best Danish writers, Elsebeth Egholm and Susanne Staun, are both sold in Germany but neither Britain nor America.

May 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, Hakan Nesser has said that Germany is the big target market for Swedish crime writers, so you're probably right.

May 31, 2009  

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