REVIEW by Sophie BaggottNWR Issue r4
Reasoning, For his Warriors & Prayer at the End
by Rob Mimpriss
Whilst the publication dates of Rob Mimpriss’ three short story collections span a decade – from 2005 to 2015 – the fluency between volumes belies this interval. Reasoning
, For His Warriors
and Prayer at the End
are dark, dense reads. This Welsh writer has a practised confidence, and each of his seventy-three stories collected here is marked by an indelibly bleak angle into society. Even the book covers reflect his greyscale take on the medium.
Throughout his narratives Mimpriss gives glimpses of lives plagued by struggles. The first story, ‘America’, creaks open with a crime scene in a Welsh town. Police are searching for a missing eleven-year-old girl, who is ultimately found to have been raped and strangled. Yet the writer skews this tragedy by focusing on a conversation between a local resident and his prodigal daughter, Ffion. The latter has just returned from America where she worked as an au pair while also embarking on an affair with the children’s father. Ffion’s homecoming is devoid of any affection; instead her father agonises as to whether he is to blame for her careless temperament. This cheerless, introspective tenor is somewhat programmatic for Mimpriss’ ensuing stories.
Misery is a common denominator, and disjointed families crop up again and again. The stories tread a disconcerting tightrope between gorgeously georgic descriptions and gritty domestic situations. The beautiful scenery often strikes an off-key note for the very human troubles that stream through every storyline. Occasionally alarming parallels with contemporary difficulties appear. The portrayal of refugees in Reasoning
’s ‘In the Camps’ draws strangely close to Europe’s current crisis though Mimpriss first published the story ten years ago. ‘There are no free countries…. Always there are visas and customs men; everywhere there are police,’ says the Ruthenian character Mira.
The titular story that closes the third book, Prayer at the End
, twists a refugee narrative differently. A missionary worker, Ruth, converts to Islam following a rooted friendship with Kurdish and Iranian Muslims while working with refugees in Austria. Ruth is then ostracised from the Christian community back in the UK, and the collection ends with her longing to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. In the story’s final image Mimpriss has her imagining the prospect of falling underfoot to be trampled by crowds – a pain which, she believes, would take her to bliss in God’s presence.
Religion is one of two lifebloods in this writing. Alongside this, the importance of place and Welshness is clearly critical to Mimpriss, particularly in Reasoning
, where references to Welsh towns are omnipresent (sprinklings of the Welsh language are present in all three collections). Mimpriss’ love of words is evident from start to finish, and this may topple over into self-indulgence at times. The vocabulary is impressive but perhaps prone to flamboyance, which threatens clarity on occasion. In ‘The Owls in the Woods’, Mimpriss describes a character as having ‘expected happiness to take root in the fabric of his connectedness’ to convey – I think – the simple fact that the character, Noel, assumed his loved ones would make him happy.
Mimpriss’ tendency to psychoanalyse his characters can be overbearing and distort natural narrative shapes by probing into personalities at the expense of plot. While this is liable to be generally unsatisfactory for such short interactions, the risk does often pays off. In For His Warriors
, ‘Cineworld’ details a man’s stay with a friend who lives with his second wife and his son from an earlier marriage. Mimpriss uses the tactic of a visitor’s insight into a family more than once – with fruitful results. Seemingly mundane scenarios are given significance, prompting unexpected depths of contemplation as to interrelations. One thread runs right from Reasoning
to Prayer at the End
, namely the family who had been immediately introduced in ‘America’: Ffion and her father Gwilym. The potential comfort of this intimacy for readers is limited, since (as with the majority of characters in these collections) the family endures conflict after conflict. Ffion’s love life is a never-ending source of strife for Gwilym. Yet the familiarity does provide some relief in comparison with Mimpriss’ habit of introducing so many new characters in quick succession. In several stories, the extent of this tests his readers’ ability to keep up with the pace.
The sheer variety of storytelling forms in the collections is nonetheless gratifying. Readers are offered no shortage of third-person narratives and first-person monologues, as well as diary entries, letters and translations of Welsh literature. One highlight is Mimpriss’ translation of ‘Llythr i’r Cymry Cariadus
’ in Reasoning
, succeeded by an identically titled ‘A Letter to the Beloved Welsh’ which comprises a woman’s contemporary letter addressed to an ex-partner. The writer’s embrace of Daniel Owen’s ‘Straeon y Penytan
’ from 1895 in Prayer at the End
, is another facet that adds to the diversity of his volumes; the way in which Mimpriss weaves intertextuality into his work prevents the monotony that accompanies some short story collections.
On balance, these three books should not be sought for light-hearted leisure – but if readers want stories that will provoke a great deal of musing on family dynamics, Mimpriss’ collections can be counted upon. The writer tugs at run-of-the-mill scenes and gleans details that morph from ordinary to expressive before the readers’ eyes. Bleak as they may be, these are honest fragments of the human condition and Mimpriss’ pensive eloquence is to be credited.
is studying for a MA in Journalism at Cardiff University.
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next review: We Don’t Know What We’re Doing