Book #17

HIRAETH by Haydn Wilks

The Main Character (Welsh, Virgo, ENTP, emo, 32, M) spends the 2010s living the decadent neo-colonialist lifestyle of an English-as-a-Foreign-Language teacher while pursuing grandiose delusions of becoming a generation-defining best-selling author.

Freelance gigs writing copy for a cryptocurrency news website & American real estate company fund his freedom from the modest chains of a job with 4 months holiday at a Korean uni to pursue the workshy millennial ideal of life as a digital nomad.

January 2020 is spent necking soju in Seoul, huffing balloons in Ho Chi Minh, touring temple complexes & Khmer Rouge torture sites in Cambodia, etc., as news spreads of a novel new virus.

A month in Wales becomes months and months and etc. of escalating and easing lockdowns, marathon video chats, Valleys bike rides & ticket-free train travel, socially-distanced booze & weed sessions, and legally-questionable house and shed visits with his Dad & the Boys, mental disequilibrium fuelling an obsession with writing something which matters: a book saying something about The World in the 2020s, to fulfil his dominant goal of becoming a best-profiting prophet, internally conflicted by the contradiction of self-publishing pseudo-revolutionary literature to enrich himself & establish himself to the word processor as Jack Kerouac was to the typewriter: the Welsh Irvine Welsh, the broke Bret Easton Ellis, the homebound Hunter S Thompson, penning Fear & Loathing in the Living Room: a Tao Lin-eclipsing autofictional Voice of His Generation.

I was wondering how long it would take for a Covid lockdown novel to cross my path. I had assumed it would be a predictable crime mystery where some poor sap was murdered whilst no one was permitted to leave the house. Not so with Wilks. Here, we’re given an autofictional account of his time in lockdown; a memoir, but not. I was interested immediately - particularly in the title. Hiraeth is a Welsh word which conveys a feeling of homesickness, not always for home, but for something one has lost or is missing. Gorgeous, and an apt word to describe Wilk’s feelings and experiences throughout the novel.

Initially, this was engrossing. Seeing our protagonist shuffle home to Wales after living and working in East Asia gripped me. There are always notable cultural differences when you move home from abroad, but to see these combined with restrictions on movement and seeing other people was quite unnerving.

Boredom and repetition strike quickly for our man, as his days become duplicates of each other. Although incredibly relatable, and quite possibly intended, they did bleed into each other and significantly dropped my absorption levels.

What struck me most here was how similar our lockdown lives were, and indeed this will be the case for many. Boring days at home, desperate attempts to change the status quo, having nothing else to do but ponder life, society, politics, and upcoming oblivion. There were even some thoughts and opinions I didn’t know I had - put into such words I don’t believe I’d be capable of myself.

The isolation aspect did feel depressing, and I felt for him throughout the novel. Often in books, you wonder how a character coped, but there was an odd feeling here of a common struggle. We all went through this; the world struggled together, yet each of us were caged in.

A voueurstic rove around someone else’s lockdown - something I didn’t know I’d be interested in, but which I’ve taken a good deal from.