This marvellous book contrives to be both a memoir and a novel for reasons I may not divulge. It is an account of 100 years in the lives of a Welsh hill-farming family, told by the oldest child, Rebecca, born in 1905. She was named after her mother and grandmother; her life began in a valley worked by her forebears for almost 1,000 years. ‘Tradition had a hold on me from the moment I was born,’ she tells us. This sense of continuity is the book’s driving force, symbolised by the stream that runs through the valley, irrigating, quenching, cleansing and providing electricity, the bringer of light.
Light as fact and symbol is important here, for of seven children, two were born blind and a third became blind in early childhood. A five-year-old boy died of diphtheria and a baby daughter lived for only two weeks – ‘Born in May. Dead in May. Even the bluebells lasted