Sometimes novels are more than just stories. Sometimes they double as travelogues, where the author was so completely immersed in the place they were living that the descriptions in the story act almost as an advertisement for that country or city. The very long and epic Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, set in India, is a bit like that, as is my current read, A String in the Harp, which is set in Wales.
Wales is a bit of a mystery to many Americans. Is it its own country? Is it part of England? What can you even do there? And so on. Thus has been my own view of Wales added with a vague notion that Merlin lived there or King Arthur, or someone from that legend.
A String in the Harp (at least halfway through) doesn’t have anything to do with Arthurian legend. It is a story about a broken family mourning the loss of their wife and mother. The younger kids and dad have fled to Wales where Dad can be immersed in his university work. The oldest, Jen, flies over on her high school Christmas break to spend a few weeks with them. Wales is alternately cold, windy, rainy, mucky harsh, and in glimpses for her, beautiful.
Written the the 1970s when author Nancy Bond was attending school there, the plot is very slow, but it’s almost like a day by day travelogue of what Jen and her siblings are experiencing being in this wild and lonely country. In this country tour inside a story, readers learn a bit of the culture, history, language, and meet a few of the locals. Jen’s brother Peter finds a key on the beach and soon realizes that this key open a window into ancient Wales. Things really start taking off when his sisters realize that something very odd is going on. This adventure may be what they all need to become content with each other again. I’m excited to see where the story goes.
A String in the Harp is a great book to read with a hot drink on a rainy night.