Planet excerpts

A selection of our reviews from Planet 221

More excerpts from Planet 221  

My Histories by Kenneth O. Morgan | UWP £24.99
Revolution to Devolution: Reflections on Welsh Democracy by Kenneth O. Morgan | UWP £19.99

By his own admission Kenneth O. Morgan has been an exceedingly fortunate man. He was fortunate to be born in 1934 and to have lived through a fascinating historical period. The timing also meant he missed national service in a series of wars and grew up during a period of affluence and educational opportunity. Towards the end of his absorbing and highly readable memoirs Morgan remarks, ‘I have not known one day without paid work since I left university, and this continues in my eighties’. At key moments in his life he has also experienced compelling strokes of luck. Not the least of them occurred in the summer of 1955 when, as a newly qualified Oxford history graduate worrying about a research topic for his doctorate, he met with David Williams, Professor of Welsh History at Aberystwyth. They spoke for a few hours, at the end of which Williams told him, ‘Really, Kenneth, your subject is Wales in British Politics’. As Morgan says, ‘That was the most important academic conversation I had with anyone in the whole of my life, my Damascus road’.


for 50ft Women: Poems About Women’s Relationship to their Bodies edited by Raving Beauties | Bloodaxe, £9.95

I was born in the early ’70s, when pink was a colour (usually seen clashing gorgeously with orange) rather than a weighty concept tied to gender and sexuality. My first ten years were spent in brown corduroy and if I hadn’t gone home filthy at the end of the day, with at least one minor injury, it had been a very dull day indeed. My body was a piece of transport that got me up trees, through neighbours’ hedges, into building sites and, most importantly, to the sweet shop. It wasn’t until secondary school that I learned that the body was something to be looked at, judged ‒ something to inspire shame.


Cuddwas by Gareth Miles | Y Lolfa, £8.99

In Welsh-language fiction, Gareth Miles is about as un-tricksy as it gets. His stories race along; there are defined beginnings, middles and ends, and a discernible natural justice prevails. Cuddwas is no exception. Its characters range across Wales, Manchester, Yorkshire, London, the Costa del Sol and the Basque Country; they feel parental pride, anxiety and ambition; they drink; they lust and love, and generally find the business of maintaining relationships problematic. The twist here is that the central character, an undercover policeman professionally obliged to adopt multiple personalities and square these with his conscience, lives out these stories in parallel and in contradiction. A Mihangel Morgan would have made the composite, shape-shifting Elwyn Lloyd-Williams meet himself; a Tony Bianchi would have led him along false trails to challenge him with his own unknowability; even a Martin Davis, whose novels inhabit a recognisable Wales, would, one suspects, have internalised his dilemma as pathology. Not so, Gareth Miles. Although the novel’s cover shows a face looking at an altered reflection of itself in a mirror, his two-headed monster never sees himself as such.


Not In Our Name: War Dissent in a Welsh Town by Philip Adams | £15.00

A century after the passing of the Military Service Act of 1916, we live again in the shadow of war. White feathers and tribunals may have given way to slurs about ‘terrorist sympathisers’, but those who opposed the first world war of 1914-18, if they were alive today, would recognise the current militarisation of our society as being essentially the same process that they stood against a century ago. Philip Adams’ study of opposition to the first world war in the town of Briton Ferry is therefore a timely exercise in the provision of historical perspective. Not In Our Name puts us in touch with a largely forgotten generation of peace activists: men and women who stood against the tide of their time to make a powerful statement for human rights and international brotherhood. It serves to remind us that the first world war, contrary to received opinion, was not universally supported or unquestioned.

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