Wiliam Owen Roberts

Y Pla
Y Pla Wiliam Owen Roberts
Annwn (1987) 356pp

Hamish Hamilton (1991), translated by Elisabeth Roberts.
La Peste Noire
Terre de Brume (2000), translated by Marie-Thérèse Castay.
Der schwarze Tot
List (1993), translated by Klaus Berr.
Drewo a srd (2003), translated by Eva Zat'ková.

Wiliam Owen Roberts, 76 Pencisely Road, Llandaf, Caerdydd CF5 1DQ, Wales.

Pestilence is a novel set in the fourteenth century. It invites the reader to explore the lives of serf and lord, sheriff, soldier and clergyman in Wales in the time after Edward II's conquest, and the demise of the Welsh princes. This is Wales in the closing decades of a long and secluded Middle Age. The institution and dogmas of the Roman Catholic church defines the world of Chwilen Bwm, the leper who fucks his goat, and of Lady Angharad, whose frustrations and superstitions make of her a pale non-persona. In this tired society, violence is always near, and none can envisage change other than as an increase or decrease in his or her own suffering.

The book follows the spread of the black death from the Near East through Mediterranean seaports into Western Europe. Travelling on a ship from Cairo is Salah Ibn al Khatib, a student of the Coran, charged with a mission by his dying father: to reach Paris and kill the King of France. The ship is refused access to port in Italy, and Ibn al Khatib finds himself crossing first Italy, then France, with a cortege of monks, turmoil and religious zeal on all sides. Here, Roberts echos Boccacio and Chaucer, and depicts in Brueghel-like manner the grotesque side of a society close to anarchy. Ibn al Khatib bargains with a rustic giant for an old nag in Florence, and finds himself naked in the mud, his money pocketed by a seductress.

The book weaves these strands into an apocalyptic narrative which sees the status quo in Wales crash leaving a vacuum for a new social order. Pestilence is a study of the effects of global phenomena on local circumstances, as things whose origins seem distant send shock waves to Eifionydd.

Pestilence established Wiliam Owen Roberts as a significant novelist on the national and international stage. In it he develops a rich, personal idiom to animate a complex plot which in turn offers an interpretation of the forces at work in history.

Diarmuid Johnson

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