Wiliam Owen Roberts

Paradwys
Paradwys
Paradwys (2001)
Barddas
467pp

RIGHTS
Matthew Bates
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Following Bingo! and Y Pla (Pestilence), Paradwys (Paradise) is Wiliam Owen Robert's third novel. Paradwys is set in the final quarter of the eighteenth century against the backdrop of the French and American revolutions when Tom Paine wrote his Rights of Man, opposition to the slave-trade was rising, and the idea of an industrial revolution was crystallizing in the minds of English aristocrat-capitalists. Central to the book is Earl Foston, a larger then life figure who wishes to have his biography written, but why by a bankrupt wallpaper merchant on the verge of suicide? As the tale inches towards the answer to this question, the darker side of Earl Foston is revealed, and we step into hidden chambers in the catacomb of the Hobart dynasty. Paradwys belongs to the genre of the historical novel, but its relevance is not limited to the period in which it is set. "What a glorious thing to see the mighty feet of commerce stepping through the world to stamp civilisation on the most desolate of countries which lie at the extremities of the oceans" thinks Earl Foston, owner of great sugar plantations worked by Africans slaves in the Caribbean Islands. Paradwys teases out the cynicism and hypocrisy latent in these words, but Robert?'s immediate concern is to tell the story of Earl Foston's biographer, Polmont, who, leaving no stone unturned, discovers himself to be the son of the Earl's degenerate twin-brother, a man who sold both him and his sister as young children in Jamaica. Polmont, in awe of the great Earl at first, finds himself increasingly at odds with him, and when he learns that his father, the Earl's twin, is in London preparing to publish a damning account of the Earl's life, he realises he is just a pawn in a game whose rules are ever shifting. The hostility between uncle and nephew culminates in murder and manslaughter in North Wales as the Earl rides a white horse through the clouds. Paradwys, with its rollicking plot, attention to detail, and sophisticated characterisation, is as important a novel as has been written in Welsh. In it, Wiliam Owen Roberts, as the best writers do, has forged his own idiom, and launches the Welsh language bristling into the twenty first century.


Diarmuid Johnson





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