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Landsker
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by Brenda Squires

There is no question about the genre to which Brenda Squires' new novel, Landsker, belongs. It is a romance.

The author flirts with other subjects: history, politics, psychology, amongst others. Nevertheless, in the end, it all boils down to a young woman's search for love. Although the heroine finds herself caught up in the events of the 1926 General Strike, it is clear that her main reason for becoming involved is the increasing attraction she feels towards the German ex-Communist Max Dienst, and that she understands very little of the background to his political activities. It should be added that the author does not attempt to disguise Rhiannon's motivation. Orphaned and brought up by wealthy relatives at Cardigan in west Wales, she has led a sheltered life, going riding, playing tennis, and not having to worry about where her next meal is coming from. Despite the suggestion that some of her neighbours in Cardigan are less fortunate, and despite her ventures into the houses of the poor as a bringer of charity, Rhiannon really has very little idea of what is going on in the rest of the country.

Like most heroines of romance, Rhiannon is not only physically attractive - we know this from other people's reactions to her, rather than needing to have it spelled out - but feisty, independent-minded and tempestuous. She is quite capable of saying no to Max as well as yes. The question is never whether they will get together, but how long it will take, and the only mystery about the plot is whether their love affair will end in tragedy or fulfilment.

With this proviso, I can say that I enjoyed the book. Having a pretty good idea what the characters were going to do next did not detract from my eagerness to know for sure. Brenda Squires has clearly done a lot of research into the period (though not without flaws - Port Talbot has never had "row upon row of terraced houses on the hills" overlooking the docks), and besides, a certain amount of poetic licence is allowable.

If I disliked one thing, it was the unnatural way in which Max's Communist friends behaved and spoke. We all know that political extremism gives vent to dogma and propaganda, and no doubt people in such organisations do spout platitudes, but do they never let themselves go a little and show their true feelings? Likewise, Rhiannon's wealthy London relations toe the party line in dialogue that never quite rings true. Rhiannon's Aunt Lilly also takes a while to become recognisably human, though she achieves it in the end.

In Max, who is not so much a hero as a real man, the characterisation redeems itself. At first we see him only through Rhiannon's eyes and through his actions, sometimes contradictory as they are. Later we see into Max's soul, we are given an insight into the complex motivation behind his pursuit of Rhiannon, and we recognise also his willingness to compromise, which in the last analysis is stronger than his desire for the betterment of the human race. We know, too, that he and Rhiannon face real personal danger, to an extent they could never have foreseen, but this is wisely left unexplored. The ending is not predictable, but it will be enough to satisfy most readers.

All in all, this is a creditable attempt at a historical novel of "Welsh interest". I did wonder about the title. Landsker, the border between the English and Welsh parts of south-west Wales, plays no obvious role in the story. We may, if we like, see it as symbolic of the inner division suffered by Rhiannon, Max, and several of the other major characters: Lilly's husband Thomas, Rhiannon's fiancé David, and Lilly's sister Vicky.

Brenda Squires has been generous enough to donate her royalties from this book to the Save the Children Fund, and the book contains a foreword drawing attention to the connection. This is quite fair; a new author needs all the publicity she or he can get. If Save the Children's name can help sell a few extra copies of this interesting novel, I'm sure the purchasers will not be disappointed.

landsker.jpg

ISBN 1 899530 16 9
Published by Starborn Books, 2004
340pp, paperback
Retail price £ 11.99

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

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