by George Veck
Fifty-year-old Colin Tudur Parry has allowed himself to be walked all over for as long as he can remember. He only works as a bin-man to hand his wages over to his grasping, crafty wife Clare, and indolent twenty-year-old stepson Dale as they shamble around in his remote, dilapidated farmhouse in North Wales.
Desperate and deluded, Colin decides to make a stand and turn his football refereeing hobby into a full-time job which doesn’t sit well with Clare and Dale, not well at all…
Veck takes the reader back into the decaying heart of North Wales, in Ogwen Blues, his third novella* containing the usual collection of conniving degenerates whose shifty, aimless existences are constantly punctuated by a diet of alcohol and drug misuse. Once again, it’s a compulsive if uncomfortable read.
However, Ogwen Blues is a touch more studied and controlled than Veck’s previous outings. It still crackles with cynical deadpan observations and whip-smart, comic energy but there is a deeper vein of complexity and poignancy to this narrative and one of the contributing factors to this slight shift is Colin.
Weak, delusional yet not entirely without occasional, vague moral fibre and flickers of tepid intelligence, he does elicit a glimmer of reader sympathy in his dealings with ghastly Clare and deadbeat Dale which are rich with black humor and Colin’s simmering, impotent rage.
They emotionally and psychologically abuse him, especially Clare who is vile. Veck is adept in presenting the horridly tense, claustrophobic, and passive-aggressive atmosphere in the farmhouse which reaches febrile levels when Clare’s father, “Big Al” shows up.
Nonetheless, although central, Colin’s pathetic trajectory is among several narrative strands in Ogwen Blues. Dale has multiple schemes on the go, in between ingesting various purloined substances to, the reader suspects, nullify a life that he knows is already hopeless.
Notwithstanding, he’s not without cunning as his Dogecoin profit and camera-rigging antics demonstrate. Further, his surreptitious feeding of Farmer William “Caradog” Wyn’s ill-treated and malnourished animals possibly highlights some decent facet of his personality, however minuscule.
Through Dale’s stagnant existence and the presence of eccentric neighbours, Ernest and Felix, who own multiple properties in the area, Veck touches upon the divisive issue of second-homers and the Airbnb market.
Indeed, although Veck’s previous books are driven by entrenched poverty, unemployment, and bitter futility, Ogwen Blues makes these factors the cause rather than the effect and the novella is more thought-provoking as a result.
Despite the subtle change in approach, there are familiar pockets of brutal unpleasantness and downright depravity. Sion and his sordid mother, Shell, are pitifully awful, and their feral existence provides for rough reading.
Veck excels at providing gritty, social detail, sometimes with just a well-chosen phrase or colloquialism. He is on point without it being forced or appropriated and, as ever, his prose is primitive, raw, and unflinching.
It’s a visual read, and would certainly translate well into a short film. While Veck is astute at depicting his feckless cast, he is equally skilled in portraying the bleak, derelict landscape they inhabit.
Ogwen Blues is another fast, authentic blast through the squalid wastelands of North Wales and provides additional layers of veneer to Veck’s maturity as a writer. Highly recommended.
*Click here for my review of One Visit.
*Click here for my review of Spurious Scrapper.