Through an exploration of her country home in Wales, acclaimed travel writer Jan Morris discovers the heart of her fascinating country and what it means to be Welsh. Trefan Morys, Morris's home between the sea and mountains of the remote northwest corner of Wales, is the 18th-century stable block of her former family house nearby. Surrounding it are the fields and outbuildings, the mud, sheep, and cattle of a working Welsh farm. She regards this modest building not only as a reflection of herself and her life, but also as epitomizing the small and complex country of Wales, which has defied the world for centuries to preserve its own identity. Morris brilliantly meditates on the beams and stone walls of the house, its jumbled contents, its sounds and smells, its memories and inhabitants, and finally discovers the profoundest meanings of Welshness.
This book has no real narrative or plot. It is, as it sounds, a writer musing about her house in Wales, looking at how it fits in to Welsh history and into the countryside that surrounds it. The reader gets a good dose of Welsh culture. This is not the sort of book that can be read in one sitting. I read a few pages every night, and though the volume is short, it took me awhile to finish. Though the author is writing about her home, this is very much travel writing, in that it allows the reader to escape to a totally different place, and experience part of that world. For me, this was a rambling, amusing, and pleasant way to pass some time.
I would recommend that readers start with the afterword about the Welsh language, in order to avoid mentally butchering the pronunciation of the Welsh names.
Jan Morris, the renowned travel writer, chose to write about her home, which, as the titles shows, is quite literary about the house she lives in, more than about Wales in general.
The result is a rather self-indulgent description of her home, which often feels drawn out to fill the pages, and make sure to produce enough copy. It verges on the edge of vanity.
A Writer's House in Wales is the penultimate work of an author who has come to the end of her career as a writer. Since she is most well-known as a travel writer, describing far-away places, it seems fitting that in her last-but-one work she comes, or rather, stays home. A sympathetic volume, but of little interest.
Morris's focus is not just on her house, but on her country's people as well. She speaks of geographic history and how Indigenous Wales continues to struggle to keep an identity in the face of a barrage of British influence.
The hidden bonus is learning more about Morris as a person and not just a Welsh author who changed gender. She has a sense of humor. She has a partner who has stuck with her throughout it all. She is fearless: Morris is not one to back down from a challenge, climbing Everest to write about Edmund Hillary's ascent, for example. Then there's Ibsen, the cat. It's all so charming.