This richly detailed novel explores borders–between Wales and England, and in a changing world.
The first of Tom Bullough’s novels to be published in the U.S., Addlands covers 70 years in the life of one Welsh family and the changes in the world around them. The novel’s beauty lies in the common experience embedded in the personal, and Bullough has the rare gift of brevity: this sprawling storyline fits comfortably in about 300 pages.
Addlands opens in 1941. Idris Hamer is struggling to keep his sheep farm running when his young wife, Etty, gives birth to a son, Oliver, who grows into a champion boxer and prodigious bar brawler. Idris is tyrannically religious and mistrustful of change; Etty is a stronger woman than he might prefer. As generation gives way to generation, the Hamers face the challenges of technological and cultural changes (such as the fraught decision to exchange horse for tractor), financial troubles and their town losing people as a younger generation moves away. Family secrets are obliquely revealed, including Idris’s traumas in the trenches of World War I and a feud between brothers.
Bullough’s story and storytelling method are deeply rooted in the Welsh borderlands. His commitment to dialect can be challenging, exchanging a degree of ambiguity for the benefits of flavor and sound, although context clues serve adequately. Bullough pays special attention to natural landscapes, native flora and fauna and agriculture’s mark on the land. This wide-ranging but locally fixed style and plot combine to offer a muscular, evocative experience of a land and people, a novel to get lost in.
This review originally ran in the August 23, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish news.