This is an archived issue of Belletrista. If you are looking for the current issue, you can find it here
Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


by Mari Strachan
Reviewed by Rachel Hayes

This is the kind of book that should be available on prescription! Tired, fed up, need to lose yourself in a great story for a few hours? The Earth Hums in B Flat is what you're looking for.

Gwenni Morgan, the narrator, is a deliciously precocious 12-year-old growing up in a small town in Wales. Strachan captures perfectly the frustrations of the child wanting to be taken seriously, struggling to be a part of the adult society around her by eavesdropping on adult conversations and drawing anything but adult conclusions, on which she acts in a way that only a child could. Gwenni is a marvellous creation, her child's black-and-white take on the world contrasting beautifully with her rich dream-world, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her more pragmatic mother and older sister. "Don't you dare say anything to anyone about it again," Gwenni is warned by her mother when she attempts to recount a night-time flight of fancy. "You don't want people to think you're odd, do you?" (The book's intriguing title refers to another flight into Gwenni's dream-world.)

Gwenni's vivid imagination provides her with a unique lens through which to view the world, and she tells it as she sees it, with disarming candour and freshness. Rather than labouring her point, Strachan leaves it to her narrator to observe and to the reader to make connections. Early in the novel Gwenni tells us, "I used to have a diary in a red Lion exercise book in the box with PRIVATE written on the front underneath the Lion's head. When she read it Mam said: There are no secrets in this house, Gwenni". Yet only five pages later, when the family are in chapel, Gwenni notes, "Mam leans her head on her hand to pray. Whenever I ask her what she prays for she says: That's private, Gwenni". If anyone has secrets, it will turn out to be Gwenni's mother, as Gwenni the amateur sleuth is about to discover.

This is 60-something former librarian Mari Strachan's first novel, written in English, her second language after Welsh. I was particularly struck by the realisation that whilst the novel is narrated in English, it takes place in Welsh; the author makes this point clear by having someone say something "in English" every now and again. Strachan says she decided to write in English in order to take Wales to as many readers as possible. If this is Wales, I want more! (Fortunately, Strachan is already working on a second novel).