Niall Griffiths (4 stars)

Runt (Jonathan Cape)


What a courageous writer Niall Griffiths is. In the seven years since his debut Grits - an ambitious and occasionally brilliant study of modern hedonism in West Wales - he has divined, deviated and experimented with a bravery that is only really comparable to that of our own James Kelman. Irvine Welsh and Kevin Sampson, the two writers he is most often compared to, seem, by comparison, to have been trading on old glories since their 90s debuts. 2001’s Sheepshagger introduced Griffiths’ more militantly Welsh handle on his sprawling dyspeptic form followed by the tightly structured love story Kelly and Victor and on to the unruly experiments in linguistics and crushed narrative that were Stump and the deeply visceral Wreckage. Griffiths clearly has a dodgy goalie’s ability to blind and impress as he moves the goalposts.

His new book, Runt is arguably his best to date. Racing like a damaged heart from the off, this is the story of an under-educated 16-year-old from a big city who goes to stay with his widowed drunken uncle in a remote Welsh hill farm. This is, however, no ordinary teenager; there is evil born of lust in them hills and this chosen one may be the only thing that stands between it and the slaughter of innocents. Drenched with paganistic intent, Runt is made odder by Griffiths’ monologued lingual deconstruction, a Clockwork Orange distilled through the excellent Welsh ‘community’ writing of Caradoc Evans and RS Thomas. This is a euphoric, epic and deeply moving book.

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