The Welsher


166 pages
ISBN 0-919001-39-4
DDC C813'






Reviewed by Hugh Oliver

Hugh Oliver is editor-in-chief at the OISE Press.


The Welsher is an unusual, imaginative, entertaining, and overall excellent novel. The more pages I read, the more I enjoyed it, until by the end I had become quite attached to it and wished there were more. If I have any real criticism, it is in fact the beginning and the end. The novel starts in New Brunswick in what seems like little more than a weak attempt to establish a Canadian connection; with that being done, it almost seems obligatory at the end to return to New Brunswick. But the story terminates rather lamely, leaving the impression that a couple of chapters have been accidentally omitted. However, for the bulk of the book that lies in between, I am full of admiration.

The hero of the story is Anthony Watkins, who has managed to escape from the confines of his Welsh village to become a rising young executive in the National Coal Board at Cardiff. However, he is drawn back to the village to attend the funeral of an uncongenial cousin with whom he went to school and who has rather annoyingly hanged himself. At his cousin’s house, he is confined by an attack of chickenpox, and then discovers that this dead cousin used often to fantasize about him —about his material success and (especially) his sexual prowess. Essentially, then, the story becomes a conflict between our hero and the pervasive influence of the dead man’s fantasy. And in the best Celtic tradition, it is fantasy that wins. For the dead man’s pregnant widow comes to believe that Anthony has fathered her child, and she in turn persuades our hero’s mother and father (also along for the funeral) — and then the local doctor and the political village elder. Indeed, so paranoid does Anthony become that he has problems believing in himself. He should have taken sooner Rabelais’s advice in the frontispiece: “If you are accused of stealing the tower of Notre Dame de Paris, just save yourself by running away.”

Sometimes the story itself stretches belief, but strong characterization and the author’s powerful, often poetic, command of language generally persuades the reader (at any rate this reader) of its imaginative inevitability.



Thomas, Peter, “The Welsher,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,