Classics Club Book #7: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
O, there is lovely to feel a book, a good book, firm in the hand, for its fatness holds rich promise, and you are hot inside to think of good hours to come.
How Green Was My Valley is a gem of a novel. It took me a while to warm up to it, since it doesn’t really have a focused plot, but instead is a coming-of-age story that unfolds the way life does. It’s the story of a coal mining community in South Wales as told through the eyes of Huw Morgan as he reminisces about his family. Once I adjusted to the story’s pace and to the Welsh phrasings, it became much more enjoyable. I don’t normally stay with these family-drama type novels, but Richard Llewellyn writes like a poet, and I wanted to see what happened to Huw as he grew up.
My biggest difficulty with the novel was its lack of a central problem or conflict. I suppose you could say that the core conflict of the story is how the community deals with the impact of coal mining, but that seemed more like backdrop than actual conflict. Sometimes the novel read like a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive narrative, but it always felt true, like I was reading the memories of a real person.
Some of the scenes broke my heart, such as Huw’s first day at the national school where he is bullied because of his Welsh blood. But then there were scenes of such sublime beauty that I read them several times just to savor them more fully.
How Green Was My Valley is a remarkable work of fiction best read slowly and deliberately. The novel won the National Book Award in 1940, and director John Ford made it into a superb movie which won five Academy Awards in 1941, even beating out Citizen Kane for Best Picture.
How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
First edition London: Michael Joseph, 1939
Kindle edition RosettaBooks, 2013
Print length: 513 pages