The cliché ‘eagerly awaited’ seems appropriate for The Welsh Girl, by Peter Ho Davies, a debut which finally appears four years after its author’s inclusion on the Granta ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ roster. It is set in 1944, in a North Wales village so quietly traditional that many locals speak English only haltingly. The novel contains three strands, the main one about Esther, a young barmaid who becomes pregnant after being raped by a British soldier, the second about a bright German PoW held in a camp in the village, who falls for Esther, and the third about a German Jewish refugee working for British intelligence, who arrives to interrogate Rudolf Hess, who is imprisoned nearby.
The Welsh Girl, as readers of Davies’s acclaimed short stories would expect, is written with unostentatious skill. Setting and characters are built patiently and with care, and as a result are always convincing. Dramatically, however, there is a problem. This is a wilfully small novel, one that takes its place