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The Greatest Novels from Wales? #WritingWales

great-welsh-novelsA few years ago, the Wales Arts Review magazine asked readers: Which is the Greatest Welsh Novel? Since today, March 1 marks St David’s Day in Wales, the date when people of Welsh origin celebrate Welsh culture I thought it would be appropriate to go back to that question.  It’s not an easy one to answer – probably as difficult as defining The Great American Novel. But they’ve persisted, asking contributors for their recommendations and publishing articles on what are considered to be the finest literary works in the history of wales. 

Below is the list of nominations – the links point to an essay on the Wales Arts Review. Of these titles the most famous name is that of Roald Dahl though probably Fantastic Mr Fox wouldn’t be considered his most outstanding work. I’ve read just two of these novels: On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin which I thought was stunning and The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis which I read as part of my Booker Prize project and enjoyed in part.  I’ve heard of some of the other writers even if I’ve not experienced their works personally – people like Diana Wynne Jones, Emyr Humphries and Lewis Jones. But others are complete mysteries. I’ll explore some of these as part of my plan to read more literature from my home country – you can see some of what I’ve read to date over on my Authors from Wales page. 

Greatest Welsh Novel Contenders

  1. The Valley, The City, The Village by Glyn Jones
  2. Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve by Dannie Abse
  3. The Withered Root by Rhys Davies
  4. On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin
  5. Cwmardy & We Live by Lewis Jones
  6. Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds
  7. Gold by Dan Rhodes
  8. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  9. The Genre of Silence by Duncan Bush
  10. The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price
  11. So Long, Hector Bebb by Ron Berry
  12. The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
  13. Downriver by Iain Sinclair
  14. The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis
  15. The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi
  16. In and Out of the Goldfish Bowl by Rachel Trezise
  17. Awakening by Stevie Davies
  18. Un Nos Ola Leuad by Caradog Prichard   (translates as One Moonlit Night)
  19. Shifts by Christopher Meredith
  20. Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
  21. Submarine by Joe Dunthorne
  22. A Toy Epic by Emyr Humphreys
  23. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The winner, chosen by a panel of literary experts and authors and a public poll, was Un Nos Ola Leuad (One Moonlit Night) by Caradog Prichard – the only Welsh language novel to be nominated. Published in 1961, One Moonlit Night is the story of a young man’s education and growth to adult hood in the slate mining area of north west Wales – Caradog Prichard’s home territory. Announcing the result of the poll, one of the panel members compared the novel to the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in its use of magical realism.

Further resources

Announcement of The Greatest Welsh Novel

Description of One Moonlit Night by Publishers Weekly

Authors from Wales page on

Wales Arts Review







What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

33 thoughts on “The Greatest Novels from Wales? #WritingWales

  • I must be dense because I didn’t notice any magical realism in One Moonlit Night. As for Sarah Waters, I love her earlier novels but her more recent ones just don’t do it for me.

    • Would the magical realism element be in the sections involving the Queen of the Lake?

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  • The only book I have read from the list is the Great God Pan and I thought it was terrible. I know it’s supposed to be a classic and all but the misogyny was insurmountable for me. Some of the other title on the list are intriguing though, especially The Genre of Silence, so I’ll be saving your post for future reference 🙂

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  • Great topic – and it’s splendid to see Howl’s Moving Castle get some recognition, though I must say the “Welsh” portion is not very substantial. It’s more a sort of joke that one of the characters in the main fantasy world is actually from Wales. I would hardly call it a “great Welsh novel.”

    Another Diana Wynne Jones to consider is her last book, The Islands of Chaldea, which involves a journey around fantastical versions of the four countries based on Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England (each a separate island, in this world). It’s not her strongest book (and the ending is not by her), but the idea is clever. I feel like there is another DWJ book with a Welsh connection but I’m not recalling it right now…

    I also have to recommend the Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. Two of the books are set in Wales and forever cemented my image of the country. And, The Whispering Mountain by Joan Aiken is a delightful alternate-history romp with lots of linguistic flourishes. Any of these belong on the list more than HMC, much as I love it.

  • I’ve actually read a fw of these but I’m very grateful for the list and will certainly return to it.

    • You’ve done far better than I have (hangs head in shame)

  • I was intrigues by the titles of the post. And I am sad I have not read any of these. I have read Mr. Fox! That was a fantastic one, just how Roald Dahls always are.

    • I wouldnt be too sad Resh – I suspect quite a number of these are rather niche interest

  • I’ve only heard of a few of these, and the only one I’ve read is the Sarah Waters (though I think that’s her weakest book). I do plan to take On the Black Hill with me on a trip to Hay-on-Wye next month, though.

    • What a perfect reason to read On the Black Hill. Then when you get back home you can watch the film…

  • I’ve read On the Black Hill, The Old Devils, The Hiding Place and The Little Stranger but have to say that I didn’t realise that either Sarah Waters or Dan Rhodes was Welsh. I may have recommended Jo Mazelis’ Significance to you before. Apologies if that’s the case but it’s a very fine Welsh novel published in 2015. Happy St David’s Day!

    • i dont recall hearing about Jo Mazelis previously – but thanks anyway for the recommendation.

  • Great post Karen. I’ve read a few of these but you’ve inspired me to seek out more. I may even feel the rumblings of a challenge coming on! 😉

    • I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a Wales Reading Month. But each time I wonder how much interest there will be

  • The only one I’ve read is Fantastic Mr.Fox, but I’ve heard great things about Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle has been on my TBR for ages.

    • Diana Wynne Jones specialises in historical fantasy I think which could be why I’ve never read her but she is highly regarded

  • Interesting post. I hadn’t expected to have read any of those shortlisted but was pleasantly surprised to see 4 I’d read on the list, two of which ( The Old Devils and Sarah Waters) that I liked and two of which I loved – Ash On A Young Mans Sleeve and On The Black Hill. Like Lisa I’ve also done Fantastic Mr Fox every which way but loose with different classes – including as a class play and as a Maths Project!

    • Ive not read much Sarah Waters – only the Paying Guests which I dont think is meant to be her best?

      • Try The Night Watch. I think that would be more to your taste than her Victorian ones.

      • I really liked The Paying Guests though I know others didn’t. It wasn’t as good as Fingersmith that I loved.

        • Thanks Col – I might give Fingersmith a go one day

  • Well, I’ve got two of these on my TBR (The Old Devils and The Hiding Place) but *blush* the only one I’ve read is Fantastic Mr Fox. But I have read that multiple times, to almost every class of over 8-year-olds I’ve had. Memorably I even had a FMF feast with one class of Grade 3s!

    • In that case you can probably recite large chunks of Mr Fox!

      • Yes, I remember the rhyme! If I taught those kids nothing else, they’ll always remember the rhyme.
        Boggis, Bunce, and Bean Boggis and Bunce and Bean
        One fat, one short, one lean
        Those horrible crooks
        So different in looks
        Were nonetheless equally mean!

    • Because I dont read much (if any) fantasy I’ve never read anything by her. Anything in particular you would recommend for a first read?


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