My Father's Places: A portrait of childhood by Dylan Thomas' daughter by Aeronwy Thomas

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My Father's Places: A portrait of childhood by Dylan Thomas' daughter by Aeronwy Thomas

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: The author moved to Laugharne, on the Welsh coast, at the age of six, with her father, poet Dylan Thomas, and family. This childhood memoir covers their life over the ensuing four years.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Constable
ISBN: 978-1849010054

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Aeronwy Thomas was six years old when she and her family came to settle after a nomadic existence at Laugharne, on the Welsh coast, in 1949. Dylan used to broadcast regularly on the BBC, and while he continued to travel to London regularly for the purpose (as well as to carouse with friends in his old haunts), somewhere off the beaten track was a more suitable working environment.

Dylan sometimes lacked motivation, and Aeronwy records that her mother Caitlin did her best to make sure he spent at least some of his time working. After they had all spent the morning with friends, and had a fry-up – usually eggs or cockles, which they gathered themselves, and fried in garlic and pepper – he would walk to his shed, two minutes away from the house. There his wife would lock him in from 2 to 7 in the afternoon where he would write poetry, speaking every word out loud as he committed it to paper. If it was quiet as the family passed by, they knew he was reading one of the 'forbidden detective novels' of which he had a supply to pass away the time more pleasantly. In the evening he was let out, so he and Caitlin could take the cliff walk to the nearest pub.

Aeronwy paints an attractive picture of family life during the four years they spent there, although inevitably much of it tells about certain darker aspects of family life which she must have been told later on. There are pen portraits of her mother's help Dolly Long, Booda the deaf and mute ferry man, her elder brother Llewellyn and baby brother Colm, who was born soon after their arrival. Above all, there is the constant figure of Dylan Thomas himself, standing around at family gatherings like a benevolent teddy bear.

The children were given a certain amount of freedom to run around the coast, the estuary and countryside beyond, without over-anxious parents watching their every step. A rather un-PC picture on the front of the dust jacket, of little Aeronwy smoking a cigarette, says a good deal.

For entertainment there was an improvised cinema in the hall at the local social club every Friday night, with Tarzan or Laurel and Hardy pictures the firm favourite. While the family may not have had much money to spare, with Dylan not too proud to dash off the odd slightly tongue-in-cheek begging letter, they seemingly enjoyed a contented life on the whole.

Much of the book is filled with the sunshine of innocent childhood memories, but there was inevitably a shadow over it all. When Dylan went on a tour of America in October 1953, he was quite ill and drinking heavily. Above all, his regular infidelities had exhausted Caitlin's patience, and had led to a few fights between them. She and their friends were concerned about his visibly failing health and blackouts, and she said rather ironically that he would go back to the USA over her dead body. He was followed across the Atlantic by a letter from her informing him that their marriage was over. Fortuitously he never received it, for within a few days he was rushed into a New York hospital where the staff were unable to save him. His widow later moved to Italy.

It is a very pleasant memoir, with much of it evoking the carefree world of childhood, but I finished it feeling there was something missing. It's a little like a Welsh version of Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, but without the animals or the rollicking good humour which so enlivened the latter. The end of the book is rather sudden, and the author's descriptions of what the family did, one thing after another, aren't really matched with any insights which would somehow make it all more balanced. While it certainly has appeal and reads easily, until the last chapters it tells us little about the family beyond the normal antics of young children playing together on a daily basis.

Our thanks to Constable for sending Bookbag a copy for review.

For other family memoirs, why not try the Gerald Durrell title referred to above, or Starstruck: Fame, Failure, My Family and Me by Cosmo Landesman.

Buy My Father's Places: A portrait of childhood by Dylan Thomas' daughter by Aeronwy Thomas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My Father's Places: A portrait of childhood by Dylan Thomas' daughter by Aeronwy Thomas at Amazon.co.uk


Buy My Father's Places: A portrait of childhood by Dylan Thomas' daughter by Aeronwy Thomas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy My Father's Places: A portrait of childhood by Dylan Thomas' daughter by Aeronwy Thomas at Amazon.com.

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