Book Review

Hello Friend We Missed You by Richard Owain Roberts

disjointed blog post on a very affecting new novel

Something I don’t write about – or tbh think about – very much is the time I spent living in Wales, a period of my life which is now over a decade ago. Though I was-

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No idea where I was going with that sentence.

Three days have passed since I wrote the above (the weekend, the weekend, is when I work the most) and I have no idea what creepy memories I was about to start nostalgising about.

When I lived in Wales – which I did from September 2007 to the end of June 2010 – it was in Cardiff, the other end of the province/region/country (?) to the setting of Richard Owain Roberts’ Hello Friend We Missed You, so my experiences down there – in what seemed to nineteen-year-old bumpkin demi-vierge Scott non-Manley Hadley like a big, vibrant city (hahaha) – were not really comparable to what this novel is about.

What?

The novel, like lots of other great novels (particularly great millennial novels) is about a person (Hill) returning to his rural hometown from a live lived elsewhere, broken, alone and grieving.

Hill’s hometown is on the island commonly referred to as Anglesey, a word which pointedly never appears in the novel, with the central location instead being referred to throughout by its Welsh language name, [Ynys] Môn. Decolonising place names is an important and valid thing to do, evidenced by the fact that I have visited Anglesey – no, evidenced by the fact that I have visited Ynys Môn upwards of five times and had no idea of its original name until I bothered to Google “Wales Mon” while reading Roberts’ book. Maybe I shouldn’t be admitting to this ignorance, but the Welshness of Wales wasn’t something that came through very hard or very seriously in Cardiff as a city (which I entered into – by working in the city centre and exploring the local area – a lot more than most of my undergraduate [non-Welsh] peers), and barely came through at all within the confines of its university.

Anyway, this is off topic.

This is off topic again.

Hello Friend We Missed You is a novel about Hill (who’s probably somewhere around mid-thirties though possibly younger and possibly older), a prospective filmmaker whose short(?) has been optioned by Jack Black and then his wife has died and his father is dying (of cancer?) and his mother killed herself when he was a child and he returns, with a cat, to the familial home up on the Isle of Môn to see his father through the end of his life, replacing the part time carer who is a local PhD student who, yes, he ends up shagging (before she too moves away).

That makes the novel sound a lot less enjoyable and a lot more cliched than it actually was. Is.

What?

There is a lot of tragedy here, a lot of death within the narrative and the protagonist’s life, but also peripherally, too.

There is lots about ageing and about the failure of ambition and the apathy created by moderate success (and the way that non-creative types presume that sounding successful in the arts coexists with financial gains (“Why don’t you quit this job and write full time?” a younger colleague asked this week when I mentioned the beginning of pre-sales for the pleasure of regret, and I just laughed and walked away, instead of explaining that if I could write depressing memoirs and scat-based sad poems for small indie publishers full time and still afford to pay for organic dog food, old world wine, occasional holidays, the debts I owe after that structurally-unsound boat fiasco, and my crippling book-buying addiction, then good goddamn I would be!)), and how and how and how this actually is the opposite because even if you’ve had a film optioned by Jack Black or been anthologised alongside the Poet Laureate, when you’re faced with the stability and relative affluence of the dull people you went to school with who stayed in the middle of nowhere you’re a pauper because though you’re more interesting, they like own property and like cars etc now lol.

Sorry, this post is mainly about the similarities between the novel’s set-up and my own life lol, but those similarities are numerous, though neither of my long-term chronically ill parents have yet died and though the creative success I’ve had means I’ve had some contact with writers and performers whose work I adore, but none of them have been as fucking major as Jack Black, whose comedy music I used to love as a teenager (and, briefly, when I did my big life-affirming sober hike across Spain, I discovered the “late” Tenacious D song ’39’, which remains one of my favourite sleazy love songs lol).

Christ.

I’m not as good at this as I used to be lol.

I need to clean my teeth and go to work soon. It’s my last shift before I take three days off to get out of the city over my birthday (yes, readers, this post is coming to you live, not out of the backlog!!!).

Eurgh.

I’m pretty bored at the moment.

I’d like to be able to travel further than the distance I can drive a hire car in a morning, but that seems unlikely any time soon.

My lover’s parents are getting a puppy today, so hopefully soon I will get to meet a puppy. Good. That’s something.

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Hello Friend We Missed You is fragmentary; it uses emails and email drafts and WhatsApp conversations and memory and descriptions of filmed footage and dialogue, to evoke the character of Hill – grieving, in grief, floundering.

Yes, it’s the kind of novel that is comforting and familiar because it is a sad white man provincial British novel with too much booze and creative urges and soulless sex and disintegrating friendships and dying parents and this is the life I lead/led and the kind of material I write/wrote when I write/wrote fiction. And anything else tbh lol hahaha

i suppose what i’m trying 2 say is that Hello Friend We Missed You is too close, was too painful a read, to engage with it as a text, rather than as an emotional, emotive mirror/reflection.

What?

Roberts’ writing is evocative and beautiful, varied and expansive, detailed and vague. Place and personhood are both captured wisely and humanely, and – honestly – it was a joy to read, though it did make me feel sad and anxious and unhappy in empathy and in memory as I read. I’d recommend it, but I’d also forewarn that if you read my “writing” because you too empathise with that feeling of provincial british lower middle class deep and unrelenting ennui, then this novel does that much better and much more intensely. Well, more intensely for me because it’s not me doing it and so the emotional punches are a surprise

ok i gtg this was a wonderful book, thaaaaaaanks.

ORDER DIRECT FROM PARTHIAN BOOKS VIA THIS LINK

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BONUS: A video I filmed the last time I went to Wales, in the Summer of 2016, on a pilgrimage to the beach where B.S. Johnson filmed Fat Man On A Beach. Look, there’s a cute dog in it, too:

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