The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and Humanities: The triumph of Wendy Jones' novel is the art of turning a slightly comic, slightly dotty but innocent character into someone that we feel great compassion for.
Date: Jun 2 2015
Thoughts and Happenings is a helluva lot of fun. An undertaker who is juggling two young women. A very innocent undertaker.
Wilfred, that poor sap, has managed to get himself caught up in a mesh of small town morality and womanly wiles, but when he realizes that the mesh is made of tulle (one of his ladies is with child), the reader immediately wants to come to his rescue. This sucker is downright charming in his naïveté. We feel for him so we're trapped too. And we're not even pregnant.
As he's preparing the funeral of Melbourne Edwards, he blurts out that he might be willing to have tea ande crumpets with Flora Edwards, Melbourne's lovely daughter. He's just fallen for her, smack-dab in the middle of the old man's funeral preparations. This just after having disavowed Grace, the doctor's lovely daughter.
Who is expecting his hand.
And a baby.
But you don't invite strange women to tea when her old man has just popped off. Especially when Grace enciente is hovering around back in the shadows there somewhere. "I hoped a modest change of scenery and an anteprandial refreshment might provide somewhat of a relief to your daughter during these exceedingly sad times," he explains to Mrs Edwards. No? "Well, I shall say Auf Wiedersehen to you both," remembering the dictionary words he had picked up that morning." For on top of everything else, Wilfred is reading the dictionary all the way through, starting at the A's. Just to make himself more respectable.
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Even as we are getting immeshed in the sticky problem of Wilfred and pregnant Grace and lovely Flora, Wilfred appears at the funeral home in fascinating conversation with another woman.
Her name is Thomas, and her fingernails are dirty. Disgustingly so.
"'What was it with his customers,' he wondered. Mrs. Howell Thomas's fingernails, poor bugger, hasn't seen a nail brush for a while."
It was hard washing a corpse's hand. Some cooperated but others lay there like a sack of potatoes with a look of consternation on their face, like a small child who didn't like being washed.
"Peering into Mrs. Howell-Thomas's coffin, he realised he wasn't going to be able to get that damn ring off. He looked more closely at her fingers which were already purple and bloated, and wondered if Howard Carter*** had had this problem with Tutankhamun."
"There was a tomb that Tutankhamun had!" he remarked to Mrs. Howell-Thomas. "Absolutely magnificent!"
"What are you talking about in there, Wilfred?" said his da, who was sitting on the flowerbed wall, drinking his tea. "Are you talking to a corpse again?"
§ § §
The triumph of Wendy Jones' novel is the art of turning a slightly comic, slightly dotty but innocent character into someone that we feel great compassion for. We find ourselves thinking that a woman can be very graceless when she's in a pickle and pins her upcoming baby on the next passer-by --- knowing she'll be able thereby to get him into a marriage he doesn't want, using cunning tricks against which he has no defenses whatsoever.
Who is the baby-making villain? Alas, dear reader, you'll have to find out on your own by reading Thoughts and Happenings. And I envy you. Don't we always envy someone who is picking up, for the first time, a book that we doted on? A book with a sweet butter-nut sauce atop a feathery cake; the whole done with a writing style that puts the reader firmly back in 1924, in the village of Narberth. Where, when you look carefully, you can see that the sky "was playing with the clouds. We stood there in their small yard with the pissabeds, the bellybuttons, the moss and the ivy, the vegetable patch and the overgrown and unkempt flowerbed that was a mass of green plants and small flowers."
Or Wilfred looking out on "the green hills beyond, the hills that curved so confidently and easily, like a well-fed woman."
Sometimes Wilfred wondered if under those Welsh hills there were great women, giantesses, who had lain down on the earth in ancient times and fallen asleep, and then the earth had crept over them, over their breasts and their hips and the dips of their waists and tapering up their strong thighs. And then the green grass had grown over them, covering them with a fertile blanket of fresh plants that kept them warm and hidden.