Winter, 1904, and feisty twenty-one-year old Ellen has been summoned back from her new life in Hoboken, New Jersey, to the family farm on windswept Gower, in a last bid to prevent the impending death of her alcoholic father.
On her return, she finds the family in disarray. Ailing William is gambling away large swathes of Thomas land; frustrated Eleanor is mourning the husband she once knew; and Ellen’s younger twin brothers face difficult choices.
Ellen, tasked with putting her family’s lives in order, finds herself battling one impossible decision after another. Resourceful, passionate, and forthright, can she remain in Gower, where being female still brings with it so many limitations? Can she endure being so close to her lost love? Will she choose home and duty, or excitement and opportunity across the Atlantic?
I am a massive fan of the books published by this small and unique publisher, that specialises in publishing welsh women’s fiction, with it’s office located on the site of my old University, Aberystwyth! Each novel gives a voice to stories with Wales at their centre, in the fine tradition this nation has of producing high quality poetry and prose.
Advent by Jane Fraser tells the story of twenty-one year old Ellen, who returns to her childhood home to spend time with her ailing dad. Drawn back into an intricate web of family ties, old and painful connections, she must decide if her future lies in the traditions of the Gower or America, a land of infinite possibilities.
What Jane Fraser does in Advent is deliver a story that draws on the Celtic traditions around story telling, rooting her narrative firmly in the beauty of the Welsh landscape, celebrating how it can be drab and dreary, yet how both the weather and land have shaped the people of Wales.
Within the story she has given us a group of wonderful characters, prominent amongst them are the women of the Gower, full of strength and resilience, shaped not just by the landscape around them, but the limits society placed on their roles outside the home. The story is set around Ellen who has tasted freedom in America, but on returning home, finds that she can not ignore the troubles of her family, but yearns for the freedom from expectations life in America symbolised. Ellen is as a character, the perfect combination of that welsh longing for a home that once left you can never really return to, that intense grief for the places of your past, your homeland (hiraeth) and the American dream of opportunity and mobility. The conflicts this cause, informs both her personality and her journey through the novel and how we as readers watch the battles played out both in her heart and mind, to see which ultimately will triumph. It is a journey that both enthralled me and left me wishing that at some point, we could return to this character to find out, if her decision brought her both peace and prosperity and a true understanding of the meaning of home.
The story evokes feelings of longing within the reader and manages to be both epic in the tale it tells of a family struggling to find certainty in a time of change and intimacy from the way the writer weaves the bounds between it’s family members. Jane Fraser with an infinite understanding of the land the story is set in, weaves an intense emotional tale of the people and the lives they lived in this period. She shines a light on the role of the women who held the threads of each of their families existence within their embrace, holding disaster at bay, but at the same time often forced to deny both their own longies and desires. Ellen is shown in this wonderful story as one in a long line of women, from her grandmother, through her mother, who shaped both limits life in Wales would offer her, while shaping the desire for change and fulfilment on her own terms.
As a book it is a complex tale of family and relationships and our connections to each other. It is also a homage of women who helped shape the landscape around them. I for one, look forward to the what Jane Fraser will do next!
About the author
Jane Fraser Her debut novel, Advent , is published by Honno, the UK’s longest-standing, independent women’s press, in January 2021. Her first collection of short fiction, The South Westerlies was published by Salt, the UK’s foremost independent publisher of literary fiction, in 2019.
You can follow the author on Twitter at @jfraserwriter