French Thing, The
Disgrifiad | Description
- ISBN: 9780863817687
- Author: Chris Keil
- Publication March 2002
- Format: Paperback, 210x148 mm, 272 pages
A novel set in mid-Wales in the mid-1990s against the backdrop of rural hardship where livestock export dealers clash with animal rights protesters.
The beauty of the Welsh countryside has long been an inspiration to artists and authors. The economic reality of taking what the landscape offers and turning it into a living wage is not so romantic.
Located in an imaginary mid-Wales town, Llanfrychan, which fuses elements of Builth Wells, Llandrindod, Lampeter and Brecon, Chris Keil’s novel The French Thing deals with the clash of cultures that was highlighted by the live export protests of the mid-90s.
English students, Welsh farmers, aging hippies, fading entrepreneurs and continental livestock dealers are brought together in the matter of an industry and the outrage it engendered. There is also infidelity and lust, and desperation at a way of life in a community where an individual’s every move is observed.
This novel’s strengths lie in its refusal to slide into caricature or stereotype; neither does it present a simplified black and white view of the issues at stake. The dealers and the farmers who supply them are caught in a web of mutual dependence: the live transport trade is presented sympathetically as a continuation of the drovers’ traditional activities and an economic necessity in rural Wales. Their way of life is underpinned by the rearing and selling of sheep and cattle, yet the protests and BSE crisis seem to threaten their only livelihood in ways which are utterly beyond their control.
On the other hand, the students who bring the anti-transport campaign to the attention of the inhabitants of Llanfrychan are also presented as individual characters, whose motives and personalities unwittingly interact with the livestock workers to set in motion the inevitable tragedy. Even the continental dealers in France and Spain act as a wry counterpoint to events in the way they completely fail to comprehend the animal welfare issues that drive protesters to throw bricks through lorry windows.
The French Thing looks at life in rural Wales without illusions or sentiment. Its farmers are real and suffering human beings, and their work is presented as an industry under almost intolerable strain. Although the nature of the changes being forced upon the countryside may have shifted in recent years, the pressures on small communities in terms of the lack of economic opportunities and the impact of external attitudes and moral codes remains true across Wales and beyond.