Book Review: The Village of Little Comely-on-the-Marsh

Dec. 16, 2020

(2020), By Alan Simons


So here’s the conceit: A sturdy band of Welshmen, the progeny of intrepid pioneers, have established themselves in an isolated village in the south of France. They eschew any contact with the locals, and live as if they have never left Wales.

What happens when a stranger, injured in a car accident, is brought to the village to recover? Of course, he becomes an instant curiosity, and turns the village inside out and upside down, especially when the town elders have to determine what to do with him when he recovers.

And let me tell you, the ending is a total surprise.

So what’s the Jewish connection, you may ask? Well, that’s part of the surprise. Author Alan Simons has a Jewish affairs website read worldwide. And he has a long record of Jewish organizational activism and leadership in the Toronto community. He’s also the author of several books, for all ages.

But more to the point, what does a nice Jewish lad like Simons, born and bred in London, know about Welsh village life or the jaw-breaking Welsh language for that matter? It turns out he had relatives who were shopkeepers in just such places, and he used to visit when he was a kid. Obviously, something stuck.

Simons’ characters are delightfully loopy, the product no doubt of generations of inbreeding. They are not so loopy that we can’t identify with them, and Simons spends a good part of the book elaborating on their peculiar ways.

Like one of the town councillors, who is accompanied everywhere he goes by a blown-up balloon of a blowsy partner attached to his ankle and waist, but of course is a real person to him. And would you believe nobody in the village bats an eyelash at such behavior? He turns out to be another interloper. How did he integrate so well? That’s what we find out…at the end.

Speaking of the town council, it meets frequently at the local pub-restaurant for a full Welsh breakfast, described in detail. It takes up so much of their meeting that not much in the way of town business is ever accomplished. But what a breakfast!

The book is less than 100 pages and in that small space, we have hived off to another world, like the intruding stranger in the story, and like him, with our heads swirling. We’re more than engaged. We come away imagining the story as a staged farce, or an animated Disney version, vying for which part we’d like to play ourselves.

It just sends our imaginations spinning, and I mean for any age level. After all, the characters are all adults – kind of. And in fact, Simons has promised us a sequel, if the book finds its audience, and lets him know they want more.

Ralph Wintrob
Ralph Wintrob

Ralph Wintrob is a former journalist, teacher-librarian, longtime instructor at The Life Institute (the senior studies program at Ryerson University) and presenter at seniors groups in Toronto. With his wife Kitty, author of I’m Not Going Back, Wartime Memoir of a Child Evacuee, and a proper Cockney, he has seen Wales in all its natural beauty and human charm.