Dan Rhodes and I have a chequered past, though he probably doesn’t know that. I didn’t care at all for his debut collection of stories, Anthropology (which comprised 101 stories each of 101 words), but his first novel Timoleon Vieta Come Home was my favourite book of 2003, and the only novel ever to make me literally cry on one page and laugh on the next. Now he’s back with Gold, whose cover screams cool all the way down to its smoothly curved page corners. Not pictured.
And Gold is set in a Magnus Mills-ish unnamed village in Pembrokeshire, where Miyuki Woodward (who looks Japanese but isn’t) spends two weeks a year because – but, like most things in Gold, it would constitute a minor spoiler to explain this, since so much of the pleasure of it is in the gradual revelation of the story. I also can’t say why her sneezes are significant. If we can’t talk about what happens then, what about the other characters? The villagers all skirt the edge, mostly successfully, of whimsy (my pet noire, as Victoria Wood would say): there’s Tall Mr Hughes, Short Mr Hughes and Mr Puw, all propping up the bar at the Anchor. There’s Mr Edwards the barman, who never really says anything other than “Holy Mackerel”. There’s Septic Barry and the Children of Previous Relationships, who both are and are not what they seem.
Gold never really hits the heights of Timoleon Vieta Come Home: it’s affecting but only in brief snatches, and although there are good jokes (like the landlord who decided to be rude to people to drum up business, or inappropriate pub quiz team names), they didn’t make me laugh aloud so much as smile aloud. Often the background stories of the characters seem like stand-alone stories – like the scenes in the second half of Timoleon Vieta – though mostly they integrate well enough into the book as a whole.
Rhodes’s lightness of touch – which occasionally can seem naive or cliched, but I think deliberately so – enables him to develop a sort of anti-humour from the banal occurrences, rather like Scott Dikkers in Jim’s Journal, or a mild celebration of the ordinariness of life as in Sylvia Smith’s Misadventures. And the book seems overall to be about the transience of things – holidays, our experience of art, pleasurable memories, relationships, even life – and the importance of enjoying what we have for its own sake, without trying to prolong it and thereby causing it to stagnate. In that vein, Gold will not take long to read, but is enjoyable while it lasts.