Afterthoughts: One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard

In a Nutshell: Memorable! Touching! Endearing! One Moonlit Night is one of those rare books that once read will always remembered!

With the turning of the final page of One Moonlit Night having taken place, my journey into Welsh village life in the earlier part of the twentieth-century has sadly come to an end, and it’s now time to lay down my ‘afterthoughts’ on Caradog Prichard’s esoteric novel.

Firstly I’ve got admit that I found One Moonlit Night to be rather difficult to get into at first. I had a problem with a particular strangeness to the prose, a ‘strangeness’ which was quickly cleared up after I went back and did what I should have done before I started reading the first chapter i.e. read the page-and-a-half of translator’s notes *blushes*. The strangeness comes from the Welsh custom of using nicknames instead of surnames (because the Welsh use so few) in order to identify people. With a full understanding of this, everything made sense and clicked into place nicely. In fact the use of nicknames actually brings an element of charm to the novel making it all the more endearing. How can one not connect instantly with characters who bear names as charming as Owen the Coal, Will Starch Collar, Bob Milk Cart and Humphrey Top House?

One Moonlit Night is told from the perspective of one of the former residents of the tiny fictional Welsh village in which the novel is set, on one particular moonlit night. The narrator in a series of reminiscing flashbacks, recalls memories of events and episodes which occurred during his formative childhood years spent in the village. Occasionally sensational, often endearing, what One Moonlit Night seems to do well is to offer a compelling snapshot into the unique life of an early twentieth-century Welsh village community.

One Moonlit Night is profoundly sad at times, with a predominant theme which seems to centre on loss. However one never really gets an impression of sadness, or at least any real lasting impression, from the ‘child’ narrator himself. As I mentioned in my forethoughts, Jan Morris in her foreword calls One Moonlit Night a “a sweet-natured book, seldom bitter, often funny”, and I have to agree with her on this. Despite the narrator bearing witness to a number of unpleasant things, the overall mood remains mellow and there’s certainly no permanent sense of grief or resentment inherent in the narrator. This is important to note because many believe One Moonlit Night to be more autobiographical than anything else; a mirroring of Caradog Prichard’s own childhood days spent in the Welsh village of Bethesda. After reading I’m convinced this novel for the most part is Prichard’s life in Bethesda, because there is a certain informed richness to the narrative and too many coincidences for it not to be. For Prichard to paint such a tough upbringing (remember his father died young and he was brought up in extreme poverty), in such a largely positive light, shows great strength of character.

Speaking of character, One Moonlit Night has some quite remarkable ones, and I’m guessing most (hopefully not all because there are some real ‘bad eggs’ in this novel), could have been found wandering the streets of the author’s birthplace. I won’t spoil things by revealing too much, other than to say that the principle characters are the narrator’s friends Huw and Moi, with whom he shares an affectionate friendship, and many of the novel’s ‘adventures’. The friends experience things which are shocking, things which their juvenile brains have a problem working out, and it’s this childhood naivety, this making sense of an adult world that is a driving theme in One Moonlit Night.

The novel’s most endearing relationship though is not surprisingly between narrator and mother, and I love how Prichard has ‘painted’ the strength of relationship between the two of them. Looking at this ‘fictional’ relationship one can get a glimpse into how much Prichard valued the ‘real life” relationship he had with his mother and how strong the bond was between them. The novel really does establish a solid bond between the two which makes it all the more harrowing when certain events occur later in the novel.

Two minor things I didn’t quite like about One Moonlit Night. Firstly, reminiscent of McCarthy’s The Road (afterthoughts) there is a distinct lack of punctuation, more particularly quotation marks for direct speech. Not an unbearable problem to deal with but one that takes a bit of getting used to, and until I did it niggled me somewhat. The second dislike are the couple of chapters where Prichard goes off on a poetic tangent and rambles on in ‘flowery’ prose for a few pages. I’m sure it had it’s purpose in the novel (it certainly bears a link), but I’m guessing Prichard was more showcasing his poetic ability rather than anything else.

I’ve also got a small aesthetic niggle which relates to this particular re-issue from Canongate, and that’s the novel’s cover. I don’t think the cover art really does justice to the content. From the cover alone One Moonlit Night looks more like another run-of-the-mill ‘misery memoir’ rather than a work of classic literature, and I’m worried some will pass it over as being a lesser work than it really is.

Before ‘wrapping up’ credit must also go to the novel’s translator Philip Mitchell. Even in its English translation One Moonlit Night reveals itself to be a stunning work, which appears to have suffered little in its transition from the vernacular. A true testament to the talent of novel’s translator, and something for which Mitchell should be praised highly for.

In concluding then, I think endearing is the main impression I want to leave people with, simply because One Moonlit Night’s main quality for me, is its endearing quality. Sure a lot of bad things happen in the novel, but a lot of good happens too. The place, the characters and the simple, uncomplicated way of life create feelings of real affection for this novel, and most endearing of all for me is finding children who, unlike kids of today, are delighted with the less material pleasures in life such as friendship, football, pignut and bilberry gathering, and most endearing of all – bread & butter.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Book Details
Publisher: Canongate
Published: 08 Jan 2009 (UK)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 192 pages
ISBN: 9781847671073

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).

Comments

  1. Rob,

    I’m happy to see a critical examination of this book that retains the joy of discovery lacking amongst most critics.

    Finishing the novel earlier this afternoon, I’m struck by the fact that it is not a strenuous read, an incongruity and throws harsher light on the myriad tragedies scarpering the potential joys of the narrator and citizens in general; the boy’s innocent tone adds to the gothic portent to the point where suffering is more of a curiosity than a gut punch, at least at first.

    The ambiguity of the penultimate chapter has my mind here and there: Jini Pen Cae could have ended due to any number of circumstances, not necessarily catalyzed by the narrator. Presupposing that he himself is not a madman either from the start or beginning at any point (plausibly incorrect), she could have met with an accident, done something profound of her own will, or have had either happen due to the boy, despite his claim that the townspeople’s finger-pointing is misdirected toward him.

    I’m well used to literary ambiguity and unresolved emotionality, but this one has me on edge–which, I would guess, is the point, and thusly good ahn yer, Mr. Prichard. Loved it all around, it’s added Welsh to my list of “marginalized cultures” to explore and pray for nationalist movements a la Ireland c. 1902.

    By the way, if you think your edition has a hideous cover, google the original Mitchell translation release–looks like the TWILIGHT series spilled lame all over a pulp romance.

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)
      says:

      Thank you for your input on this remarkable book Andy, and for your kind words. However, your remarkable summing up makes my review pitiful and needy. You have a remarkable way with words.
      Warmest
      Rob