©1959 Alexander Cordell (P)2014 Matt Addis
I found this audio book completely captivating; beautiful and devastating in turns. Above all, I think this book would appeal to anyone who likes a good yarn, but if you also have an interest in historical fiction then this is definitely for you; the story is so well-told that it gave me an introduction to the issues faced by one particular community as well as a broader picture of the struggles of that time. You certainly don't have to be a historian to be drawn in by the story as it's told on such a personal level.
What I loved about the book was the simple but extremely powerful narrative style which Matt Addis captured brilliantly. As with anyone's life, there are moments of sheer joy coupled with the day-to-day 'slog' as well as huge, earth-shattering tragedies. I loved the fact that some of the most poignant episodes in the book are described so perfectly and then simply dismissed; life moves on and the shadow of the event lingers but the characters' lives continue onwards, as the need to survive dictates, without dwelling on the past.
There is a huge cast of characters, all portrayed with their own personalities and quirks. You can't fail to be drawn to Iestyn, but I was captivated by Morfydd and intrigued by the enigmatic Edwina, who perhaps, although a quieter voice in the story, drew me in the most. Hywell, or 'Dada' was beautifully portrayed as the 'rock' of the family and had the most 'rounded' journey in many ways I felt, as he sought to be a moral guide for his family but also struggled with his beliefs and vulnerabilities.
Matt Addis completely captured the mood of the book from the start. The characters all had their own personalities, which is quite a feat with such a cast of supporting roles, and he brought a warm lilt to the narrative; like the style of the book itself, his storytelling was subtle yet powerful.
There are several moments which really hit me; without giving too much away, Iestyn's first fight, some of the very touching scenes in which Dada teaches Iestyn life's lessons, one particular episode at the furnace and Edwina's story. Towards the end of the book the issues become broader and some of the characters are taken further afield from their small community. This is where the beauty of the book really comes through, as the struggle of whole communities and an entire episode in history are cleverly made tangible through the eyes of just one imagined participant, Iestyn Mortymer. Eleven very happy hours of listening!
Would you listen to Rape of the Fair Country again? Why?
I would listen to this again and again, I had read the book before (hard copy) and enjoyed it but this added a new dimension
What did you like best about this story?
I live in Newport, and although this story is fiction it has a basis in the areas history, which makes it very interesting to me, but it is a great story for anyone, it is earthy and has humour, romance and gives an alternative view re the conditions suffered by the workers
Who was your favourite character? Why?
Although Iestyn was the main character, I liked Dada as there was a strength of character in him but also a softer side and a sense of humour, not unlike some Welsh men that I know.
What about Matt Addis' performance did you like?
I liked the difference in voices, after a few minutes listening you knew who was talking by the subtle changes in characterisation. I found it easy to listen to and very compelling, there was a consistency in the performance which never made the recording boring, I thought it was a great performance
Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
Although I have read this book before I still cried at Edwina’s death and I had to listen to the final chapter twice as I got engrossed and angry at the attack at the Westgate
Any additional thoughts or comments?
I thought that by listening to a book that I had read I would be bored, but this book kept my interest throughout, I also realized that I missed bits out when reading, listening to it had reinforced it in my memory. I have not used audiobooks before but am now looking forward to getting the next in the trilogy,
If you can get past the title, which makes it sound like a Mills and Boon bodice-ripper, the rewards are great! This is the delightful, though, at times, harrowing tale of Iestyn Mortymer, a boy from Blaenavon caught up in the birth of the unions and Chartism amidst the beauty of the Brecon hills and valleys, brought to life by another Blaenavon boy, Matt Addis.
Matt Addis's Welsh roots permeate the whole listening experience, Placenames, expressions and peoples' names that my English tongue would have stumbled over become part of the lyric poetry of the piece and his characterisation of each member of this disparate cast make the dialogue effortless to follow. If I met Dada in the streets of Aberfavenny tomorrow, I would know him at once, by his rich baritone or Iolo Milk or even Dai Two. I was often reminded of Under Milk Wood by the narrative passages and the sparky, quick-fire dialogue.
At the end, was a taster for the next in the series - can't wait to get started. Make sure number three is finished soon, please, Audible!
Love, toil, belief
For me, the best parts of this story were the details of everyday life, love and survival during a period when working people had few choices or freedoms. Cordell's prose often verges on the poetic to create a vivid picture of the life and times of Iestyn Mortymer. I was particularly interested in the story of Iestyn's older sister, Morfydd, who struggles against convention and suffers for her pioneering opinions on politics and the role of women
I especially enjoyed the way Matt Addis handled the range of different voices, including women and children (which is no mean feat - I have been annoyed to distraction by other narrators' lady-voices!) Another important factor in this reading is of course the Welsh accent, which was present enough to add to the lilting poetry of the language but always perfectly clear. I don't think I would have gained as much from reading all of the Welsh names and turns of phrase on the page as I did from hearing them read by Matt Addis
The whole book is an emotional journey! I was pleased and relieved when life and relationships went well for the Mortymer family, annoyed by some of the pig-headed opinions inflicted on it from within and without, and saddened by the people who were lost along the way
The only reason I have given four not five stars for the story is because I got a bit mixed up by some of the politics towards the end of the book but my overall experience - especially the narration - is absolutely worth five stars!
A hugely captivating novel, where love, family and political struggle go hand in hand. Matt Addis's storytelling is rich and immersive, with countless characters given a voice and individuality enough to be easily recognisable. After listening to 11 hours of this I'm itching for more, and would highly recommend to anyone who likes good storytelling and lilting welsh :)
This beautifully written and beautifully read tale of life in the Welsh iron making communities is totally gripping from beginning to end. Seen through the eyes of young Lestyn Mortymer there is such wit, humour and warmth set against a background that is often cruel, harsh and cold. 10 out of 10 - I thoroughly recommend it! Nick English
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