Brian Jarmans' fifth novel, Saturdays Are Black or White is set in the Eastern Black Mountains in south Wales. It opens with a chilling phone message:- ‘Hullo. It’s me. I haven’t got long. Cancer. Thought you’d like to know.’
Twin brothers Bren and Arwyn are brought up together on a remote hill farm. Arwyn leaves the valley to pursue a career in journalism which eventually takes him to London and around the world. As a consequence of his globe trotting lifestyle he loses contact with the family farm and more particularly, with his brother Bren, who is left to run it.
Arwyn returns to the valley to visit his brother and finds himself not entirely welcome in certain quarters. He experiences numerous instances of more or less subtly disguised resentment from members of the community that he abandoned in his youth. In the course of his stay he discovers that he is also the target of vicious rumours about his former wife who was murdered during a burglary at their flat.
But, of course, the major theme here is the relationship between the twins Arwyn and Bren. Author Brian Jarman has said that:
“I wanted to explore the complex nature of being a twin, right down to how they see the days of the week in different colours, and that’s the meaning of the title. he novel is also about how sibling rivalry can sometimes go wrong, and this is where the fiction begins.”
There are many delightful vignettes, such as the day trip which Arwyn takes to the Brecon Mountain Railway. There is also an account of a llama walking expedition which apparently, is a thing in the Black Mountains these days.
There are also many acerbic and drily humorous passages. In describing his life in London he recounts his experiences at a journalists club which he regularly frequented in order to socialise with his old, and getting older, colleagues:
"They called these sessions Organ Recitals, when they would in turn catalogue their various ailments. One said there were three ways of knowing you’re grow-ing older: appointment listening to the Archers, secret relief when social engagements are cancelled, and you can’t remember the third."
In summary, this is a powerful novel which explores themes of profound and tragic consequence. It is also a delight to read. Unreservedly recommended!
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