This engaging romance, set during the Welsh religious revival of 1904-1905, is a little gem, with several sparkling facets.
I like history and so was taken with the insights the story offers into both the difficulties of working-class life, at a time when there was no welfare state to offer a safety net, and the astonishing nature of an upsurge in religious fervour that had a radical effect on the lives of thousands, throwing up some unexpected consequences, some of which had serious outcomes for those not swept along with it – publicans for example – and sometimes producing downright hilarious results. And all because thousands of miners deserted the pubs and packed the chapels and stopped cursing so much.
Backed by a passion for research, Tracy Traynor’s writing portrays a way of life that was perhaps more family oriented than our experiences. She also captures the gulf between rich and poor taking her principle character into service in a big house, another lost world for most of us today. Despite the social differences, the rich and poor were physically closer than today, too, literally living under the same roof.
The story grew on me, with its arc increasing in intensity as it goes along. The last third or so of the story I found particularly strong with crisis after crisis and twist after twist. The author uses the elements to both reflect the emotional mood of the story and to shape it, in a way that reminded me of Thomas Hardy. Intertwined with the characters’ day-to-day struggles are the themes of fate, love and belief in a higher good, with the latter providing some moving moments at key points in the story’s evolution.
So I started out reading with a history hat on, but ended enjoying an uplifting romance with a timeless feel to it, in which ethereal love conquers the competing power of worldly wealth.